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The Up-and-Comers

Here’s the other shoe; twenty-six players on the current active roster have come from the last four NFL Drafts or resulting undrafted. Four of these twenty-six are on the free agency bubble come next spring – Andre Smith (1st Round, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd Round, 2009), Kevin Huber (5th Round, 2009) and Bernard Scott (6th Round, 2009). In 2014, Cincinnati is going to have to do this again with Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Ghee, Geno Atkins and Roddrick Muckleroy; all from the 2010 draft class. Following that AJ Green and Andy Dalton will be due in 2015, if not earlier. Point is that locking in anyone from the current twenty-two in question for contracts greater than one year is going to be taking money away from securing players like those listed above who are the young core of this team.

Some of next year’s free agents, like Rey Maualuga or Andre Smith may or may not be worthwhile investments long term for the money they may command on the open market. On the other side of the street, guys like Terrance Newman, Brandon Tate and Bernard Scott are purely summer help. Then you have guys like Robert Geathers or Nate Clements might find youthful replacements chasing their spots. It’s hard to tell in September who will be needed and who won’t and that’s why no one is getting contract extensions despite the seemingly deep cap space.

Uncertainty and Flexibility

As an example: earlier this year, Ray Rice entered into a hold-out with the Ravens, which resulted in a salary cap pinch that will certainly be a silent behind-the-scenes factor for Baltimore throughout the season and into next. Already, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie had to shed $1.1M of his contract in order for the Ravens to stay under the cap, but given the more long term line of thought just afforded to the Bengals, the Ravens are going to have to figure out a way to resign their rising star quarterback Joe Flacco who’s rookie contract paycheck is lighter right now than those of nose tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Terrell Suggs or safety Ed Reed. Expect the Raven’s roster to undergo a major overhaul next season to accommodate this single contract, let alone address their aging defense. The bind is that they must be willing to do so or Flacco will be the most coveted free agent come next April.

Contrary to popular thought, Ray Rice’s contract was not a snub to him or a devaluing of the running back position, but rather a calculated attempt to save some cap space in the event that Flacco had a break out year and thus would command a hefty contract. With a painfully hard look at him last week, imagine that contract if Baltimore goes to or wins the Super Bowl…

Meanwhile back in Cincinnati, it is clear that some of these players must be retained, but it’s impossible at this point to tell who is worth investing in long term verses short term verses not at all. It’s a flexible strategy by design – last week Thomas Howard was arguably at the top of the contract extension list. Now his future as a Bengal is anyone’s guess. It’s going to be a pragmatic season, which may appear to be the same miserly old front office from a distance, but its very realistic that the last two years, and likely this season as well, are all careful preparation and framework for a favorable dynasty in Cincinnati.

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