Bengals safety Reggie Nelson intercepts a pass intended for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald on Dec. 24, 2011, in Cincinnati. (The Associated Press).

The NFL’s free-agency period began on Tuesday afternoon, and Reggie Nelson is officially on the open market.

Talks on Monday between the Bengals and their top free agent priority didn’t bring Nelson new life in Cincinnati, but the sixth-year pro was still able to resurrect his career in the city.

After three years in Jacksonville, the former first-round pick was traded to the Bengals during the final roster cuts in 2010. Just as he thrived in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme as a rookie in Jacksonville, the hard-hitting safety nicknamed “Eraser” as a Gator shined in a similar scheme under Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati.

Last season, Nelson led the team with four interceptions. He was third on the team in tackles (102) and tied for second on the team in forced fumbles (two), including one that led to a touchdown return by fellow Gator Carlos Dunlap in Week 6 against the Colts. He took his first interception 75 yards for a touchdown on Oct. 30 at Seattle, the fifth-longest interception return in Bengals history and the longest since 2002.

Still, Cincinnati — enjoying the league’s highest amount of cap space with $49.9 million as of Sunday night — used its franchise tag on kicker Mike Nugent and didn’t retain one of the lone standouts in a secondary that remains a team concern with the draft approaching.

“We will continue to have discussions with the Bengals but will explore all options,” said Nelson’s agent, Hadley Engelhard.

And there are many options to consider.

Nelson’s value right now has only grown in a dwindling safety market as three of the top four available players at his position have already gotten the franchise tag. Starting Tuesday, the only safety more sought after than Nelson may be Washington’s LaRon Landry.

Miami makes sense as a potential landing spot for the Florida native, but not just because it brings Nelson back to the Sunshine State. Former Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle is the new defensive coordinator with the Dolphins, who need help in their secondary after ranking 25th in the NFL against the pass last season (250 yards a game). Houston has also been mentioned as a team that could have an interest in Nelson.

If the Bengals or other suitors don’t address their need at safety by signing Nelson starting today, they may be thinking of doing so via the draft in late April. However, this year’s incoming safety class isn’t exactly bursting with first-round talent. That’s highlighted by the fact that Alabama’s Mark Barron is still head and shoulders above those at his position even though he didn’t work out at the NFL Combine after undergoing double hernia surgery.

So although the Bengals decided not to, Nelson can rest assured that somebody will ask him to build on what he rediscovered in Cincinnati. Sooner rather than later.

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