Cincy Jungle Explains the Taylor Mays Trade

On Tuesday, the Bengals traded a draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for once-hyped safety Taylor Mays. For a blog, we’re breaking the news a little late, but for a magazine, we’re way ahead of the game.
To help us understand what this trade means, we enlisted the help of Josh Kirkendall from SB Nation’s Cincy Jungle, a fantastic Bengals blog that you should definitely be reading. Josh points out that Mr. Mays has “slow moving hips,” which doesn’t sound promising. But in Taylor’s defense, we would like to point out that he is a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, which should certainly count for something.

Taylor Mays was a big deal at USC and a second round draft pick by the 49ers last year. Why did San Fran give up on him so quickly?

I asked the same thing of an SB Nation colleague, and he mentioned two reasons that the 49ers might have wanted to unload Mays. When head coach Jim Harbaugh accepted the 49ers job this off-season, he brought his defensive coordinator from Stanford, Vic Fangio. Both had coached against Mays when he played for the University of Southern California. So Harbaugh and Fangio may have arrived with preconceived notions about Mays. We suspect that the 49ers coaching staff wasn’t interested in developing Mays and gave up on him.

That’s not to say Harbaugh and Fangio were willing to dump a player who could have helped them. On Monday, Fangio discussed his safeties and named five players on the roster who could play the position in the NFL. Mays wasn’t one of them. His athleticism, while tremendous, wasn’t translating to the NFL, specifically against the pass.

Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has a history of getting the most out of players exiled from their former teams (like Tank Johnson, Reggie Nelson, Dhani Jones, Chris Crocker), so this could be a quality marriage, provided there’s patience in the development process.

What does Mays bring to the Bengals—in terms of strengths, talents, leadership, dance moves, etc.?

Mays is often described as an athletic freak, though we’d hesitate to call him a football player just yet. Former Trojan teammate Rey Maualuga praises Mays, as does outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who was his teammate in San Francisco.

Mays appears to fill a role as a defensive enforcer in the running game, with good straight-line speed, looking to deliver the blow.

What does he still need to work on?

His passing defense is rather suspect, reportedly because of slow moving hips, terrible angles, and a lack of overall instinct—pretty much everything you don’t want in a safety. Of the 16 passes that were attempted to players that Mays was covering last year, 13 were caught for an average 20.2 yards/reception and a passer rating of 139.6.

Mike Zimmer and Marvin Lewis like hard-hitting safeties that support the run defense. If the football is thrown with Mays in coverage, expect fans to hold their breath until their face turns purple.

As a very—how should I say this?—“conservative” organization, how rare is it for the Bengals to make this kind of trade?

Trading player-for-player has happened before. It’s how the team acquired running back Brian Leonard and safety Reggie Nelson; it was also the method used during the infamous selection of running back Chris Perry over Steven Jackson.

What’s really shocking is the fact that Mike Brown traded a draft pick, especially for a player that San Francisco was actively and publicly trying to unload. The Bengals did acquire a fifth-round pick in 2012 and a sixth-round pick in 2013 from New England for Chad Ochocinco. Very likely one of those picks could be factored into this trade. Then again, with the 49ers so desperate to unload Mays, the team probably could have acquired him with spread cheese and a box of Wheat Thins.

I heard the Bengals gave up an “undisclosed” draft pick for Mays. What’s the deal with that? It all sounds a little mysterious.

Our guess is that the pick is contingent on Mays’ production and playing time. For example, when the Washington Redskins attempted to trade for Chad Ochocinco, it was widely reported that they were offering their first-round pick in 2008 and a conditional third-round pick in 2009. If Chad posted 95 receptions or more in 2008, the conditional third-round pick would have been upgraded to a first rounder.

Another example is the acquisition of Reggie Nelson from Jacksonville, who the Bengals traded cornerback David Jones for. Cincinnati also offered Jacksonville a conditional draft pick, but the conditions weren’t met (most likely playing time), and the Bengals weren’t forced to sacrifice the pick.

So the mystery is most likely that the Bengals don’t know what they’re giving up yet, though we don’t think it’ll be anything more than a fifth round pick.

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