Unrestricted free-agent safety Reggie Nelson turns 33 Sept. 21, and that's why he could be a bargain for his next team, or a bust. Nelson, who tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions, remains unsigned as the first week of the signing period comes to a close and shifts into its second week.
The Redskins reportedly have shown some interest in Nelson, who played in Cincinnati while Redskins coach Jay Gruden was Bengals offensive coordinator for two seasons. Nelson would represent an upgrade to Washington's safety group.
ESPN has reported some Atlanta interest in Nelson. The Falcons recently signed former Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
Nelson and the Bengals have expressed mutual interest in a new contract, but Rotoworld has speculated that Nelson's last chance at a sizable pay day could make him chase the money. Nelson has said that he 'would love' to re-sign with Cincinnati, so stay tuned. He's not gone yet.
However, with 2013 third-round draft pick Shawn Williams looking for a bigger role and safety George Iloka and cornerback Adam Jones back in the Bengals' fold, it's looking increasingly likely that Nelson won't return, although it can't be ruled out given the Bengals' propensity for signing their own players. But money is getting tight after the Bengals spent nearly $63 million to bring back six players the first three days.
Nelson could very well continue his late-career surge because his play of late belies his age. He shared the interception crown 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.
Even so, Nelson has made a habit of contributing key plays, especially late in games, to set up or help seal Bengals victories. He became more effective when former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer moved him from a "center-field" position to much closer to the line of scrimmage. But no word yet out of Minnesota if Zimmer is interested in his services once more.
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 Bengals history. His eight picks 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.
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.
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 somehow remains a Bengal, he'll enter 2016 alone in sixth place, just one behind Leon Hall, fifth-all-time with 24. Nelson has one Bengals pick for a touchdown, a 75-yarder in 2011 at Seattle.
He's 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.
It would be difficult for the Bengals to wave good-bye to Nelson. He has the team's' longest current starting streak with 47 straight games. He's missed just three games in six seasons in Cincinnati. Nelson was a Bengals defensive captain in 2015.