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Nothing Half About Bengals' Coveted Nelson

The unrestricted free-agent strong safety is full-go, with a Pro Bowl appearance to prove it, and it appears that the Bengals will pay to keep playing him.

It's become a near-unanimous opinion that unrestricted free-agent strong safety Reggie Nelson will remain in a Bengals uniform for the foreseeable future as the two sides attempt to come to an agreement with a deal that's suitable for both parties.

Underscoring the general sense that Nelson will stay in stripes are the crickets heard from all other points, with early silence pervading the Nelson rumor mill.

The Bengals' official web site said signing the durable and productive Nelson is a priority. Local beat writers agree. Echoing the national opinion is ESPN reporter Coley Harvey, who expects the Bengals to re-sign Nelson, coming off a career year in which he tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions in his ninth season in the league. "Nelson should be the Bengals’ top priority," Harvey wrote.

Nelson, who turns 33 Sept. 21, has been with the Bengals six years after Cincinnati gained his services in a notorious trade in 2010 with Jacksonville. The Jaguars received in the deal cornerback David Jones, who was out of the league in three years. Jones started five times in 2010 for the Jags, then played just five games with them in 2011, and five more for the Redskins in 2012. Nelson has 14 interceptions since Jones was forced to retire. Nelson also has the Bengals' longest current starting streak with 47 straight. He's missed just three games in six seasons in Cincinnati.

Nelson was a defensive captain in 2015. He shared the NFL interceptions lead with Kansas City rookie cornerback Marcus Peters after failing to come up with a pick over the final three regular-season games. He had a great opportunity for a ninth pick in the regular-season finale against Baltimore, but couldn't come up with it. “I just flat-out dropped that one,” he said after the game. Nevertheless, Nelson has made a habit of contributing key plays, especially late in games, to set up or help seal victories.

Known for taking great angles on deep pass patterns and arriving just in time to contest the catch, Nelson had an interception in five straight games, Weeks 10-14, tying the longest streak in franchise history. His eight interceptions fell two short of cornerback Deltha O’Neal’s Bengals single-season record of 10 in 2005. Nelson tied David Fulcher’s Bengals record for interceptions in a season by a safety. Fulcher had eight in 1989.

The Bengals have never had an outright winner of the league interceptions crown. The only previous Bengal with a share of the league title was O’Neal, whose 10 picks in 2005 tied the Jets' Ty Law for the top spot. The Bengals boast one outright AFC interceptions champ, cornerback Ken Riley with nine in 1976 (Riley was second in the NFL, behind the Los Angelas Rams' Monte Jackson).

Nelson has 30 career interceptions, 23 with the Bengals. He began the 2015 season tied for ninth on Cincinnati's all-time list with 15 interceptions. Among the eight this past season, were three against the Steelers, two on Nov. 1 at Pittsburgh. If he remains a Bengal, he'll enter 2016 alone in sixth place, just one behind teammate Leon Hall, fifth-all-time with 24. Nelson has one Bengals pick for a touchdown, a 75-yarder in 2011 at Seattle.
   
Nelson earned his first career Pro Bowl berth in 2015. He also was a tackling force, ranking fourth on the Bengals with 72. He ranked second on the team with 92 tackles in 2014 and led the team with four interceptions, including a key pick in the playoff-clinching win at home against Denver. Nelson added two fumble recoveries in 2015, which led the team. He ranked second in passes defensed with 14.

Those are quality numbers because there is nothing half about this Nelson, a player who is full go, with poise. And it appears that the Bengals will make a move, and pay to keep playing him.


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