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Gone In 60 Seconds?

The NFL free-agent signing period starts in a matter of hours. How long will it take for receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to become ex-Bengals?

With the free-agent signing period starting at 4 p.m. today, the Bengals could be down two starting wide receivers in a matter of hours, potentially leaving All-Pro A.J. Green as the lone receiver on the current roster with significant playing experience.

That's how precarious things are in the Bengals' wide receiving corps just two years after the group was decimated by injuries. Was 2015 the best we saw of Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu together in Bengals uniforms, or will the Bengals bring them all back for another go-round in 2016 and beyond?

It's up in the air.

Due to a weak wide receiver market, Jones figures to be popular in free agency, if Cincinnati doesn't sign him first. Jones, however, said he owes it to himself to hit the open market. Furthermore, he said the Bengals won't be getting the home team discount. As a near-high-end No. 2 receiver in his prime, Jones could be targeting a new deal in the range of Golden Tate's five-year, $31 million salary in Detroit, which could put him out of the Bengals' range after they locked down Green with a four-year, $60 million deal.

Former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson -- now head coach in Cleveland, a rumored destination for Jones --  once said that Jones has the most untapped upside of any of the Bengals receivers. But there are red flags with Jones, though it's thought that the Bengals would prefer to keep him and let fellow unrestricted free agent Sanu bolt to another team. Jones has missed 21 games in four years while averaging 58 receptions, 764 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two healthy seasons. He crawled into head coach Marvin Lewis' doghouse twice last offseason as the coach questioned Jones' desire to get back on the field after missing all of 2014 with foot and ankle injuries.

Jones returned in 2015 and looked to be back to full speed while starting a career-high 13 games and playing in all 16. He had just eight starts after his first three years in the league, but finished 2015 with a career-high 65 catches for a career-best 816 yards (12.6 average) with four touchdowns. He caught 10 TD passes in 2013. However, after coming into the league in 2012, Jones has yet to reach 1,800 career receiving yards or 16 TDs because of injuries. He surpassed 100 career receptions just this past season.

If Jones were to inherit a No. 1 role, he could struggle against elite cornerbacks. As a No. 2 receiver, he can take advantage of those who aren't as gifted with his speed, athleticism and proficiency in the red zone. He has good hands, an extra gear, he can be elusive, and he's just 25 years old. But, Jones has been living off Green's greatness his entire time in Cincinnati, and he has struggled when Green hasn't been on the field. The jury's out on how effective Jones would be working with a lesser talented No. 1 receiver.

With virtually everybody healthy in 2015 and in their normal Bengals receiving roles, Sanu, the former Rutgers jack-of-all-trades, was the fifth man in the pecking order. He finished with 33 catches for 394 yards (11.9 average) and no touchdowns, all career lows with the exception of average since his rookie season. Also gone was some of the 2012 third-round draft choice's ability to produce on so-called gadget plays. He had 71 yards on 10 rushes (7.1 average) and scored both of his touchdowns on the ground, but he didn't throw a pass.

Sanu has a perfect 158.3 rating on five career pass attempts, all completions, two for touchdowns. His career passing totals stand at 5-for-5 for 177 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. He's the only player in NFL history with two or more TD passes, 150 or more  passing yards and zero incompletions. As a three-way threat in coach Jackson's wide-open scheme, he's the only receiver in team history to throw a touchdown pass, yet Jackson didn't seem to put much faith in Sanu in his final season in Cincinnati. Jackson is now head coach in Cleveland.

Sanu can be a tease. After five games in 2015, he had 14 catches for 230 yards (16.4 average). That put him on an early 16-game pace for 45 catches and 736 yards, which would have threatened his career highs of 2014 when he played well early with added field time due to injuries and faded late. Sanu had 19 catches for 164 yards (8.6 average) over the final 11 games of 2015, and he was fading long before Andy Dalton got hurt.

Sanu posted career highs with 56 receptions for 790 yards (14.1 average) and 5 TDs in 2014, but he also was among the NFL leaders in dropped passes.


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