The Bengals will not be able to replace the production that Atkins provided, but they'll have to replace his roster spot with another DT. With the Chicago Bears signing Dallas Cowboys' discard Jay Ratliff, the Bengals should be the biggest players for the two available defensive tackles who top the list of best of the rest: Richard Seymour and Marcus Spears.
As a street free agent, Seymour is a risk based on conditioning and age (34), but he's also the better of the two choices for his suitability to play a 4-3 DT. The reported $5-million price tag for Seymour may deter the Bengals and any other team interested from rolling the dice to sign him for the rest of the season. The fact that the Bengals are likely going to need to have an extra DT active for Week 10 against the Baltimore Ravens may also cause the Bengals some pause in signing the dotted line with Seymour since he hasn't seen a snap all year.
Still, over the duration of the second half of the season, signing a formerly dominant player like Seymour may be money best spent when considering the other options the Bengals have available, even if the defensive line is left shorthanded for a week against an AFC North division rival.
Spears was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys while Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer held that position for the Cowboys. Zimmer might have a better handle on what to expect from Spears than other signing possibilities at DT, but Spears is not an ideal 4-3 DT, even though he's 6-4, 315 pounds.
Signing Spears in advance of the Week 10 game against the Ravens makes some sense for the insight Spears may be able to offer about the Ravens. The game-action value of Spears remains to be seen for a couple of reasons: health and fit. Spears missed two weeks prior to Week 8 due to a knee injury and is better suited as a 3-4 DE than he is a 4-3 DT.
Still, Spears may be the best choice if healthy enough to play right away, especially since he'll be playing against players he's practiced against this year.
The Bengals won't be able to replace Atkins' impact externally or internally, but the team is blessed with depth and versatility on the D-line. Primary backup defensive ends Wallace Gilberry and rookie Margus Hunt both have the power and quickness to kick inside and play on edge in rotation.
DT Brandon Thompson showed against the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 that he is a force against the run and will be a key part of a plus-sized trio of true 4-3 base DTs, joining the humongous Domata Peko and the currently injured Devon Still. The questionable status of Still due to an elbow injury that has kept him out of action the past two weeks may be additional motivation for the Bengals to sign another DT to replace Atkins on the roster by Tuesday.
Any doubt that the Bengals missed middle linebacker Rey Maualuga against the Dolphins was erased when his replacement Vinnie Rey missed an open field tackle that led to a 41-yard run by Dolphins' running back Lamar Miller. Rey played better after that, but the gap between starter and backup at MLB is significant.
Rey also played beside weakside LB Vontaze Burfict in nickel defense. A healthy Michael Boley -- who the Bengals signed off the street a month ago -- should help fill the gap until Maualuga returns, provided that Boley is ready to return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Week 9.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com.
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