The Bengals have a number of players hitting free agency this upcoming offseason. Who are some key players the Bengals should lock up before Week 1?
Bengals are sitting at over $16 million left in cap space for 2018 with the release of George Iloka on Saturday. That gives them the 10th most cap space in the NFL. That gives them room to make some deals before the season starts. Which current players could earn those extensions?
Carlos Dunlap is set to be a free agent this offseason. He is currently making 7.3 million this season. To extend him, it will likely raise his cap hit on the season to around 9-12 million, if not higher. Extending Dunlap could be expensive, based off his production as a high-end pass rusher, but knowing the Bengals the will try to sign Dunlap on a discount if they are going to resign before the start of the season. There have been contract talks between Dunlap and the Bengals.
A new contract for Geno Atkins should be at the top of the Bengals priority this offseason if a deal is not done before the start of the season. Atkins enters his 9th season with the Bengals after being drafted in 2010 out of the University of Georgia. Atkins is one of the best in the league at his position and deserves to get paid like it.
His cap hit for this upcoming season is sitting at 9.55 million. If the Bengals were to give Atkins a contract extension before the start of the season, it is going to be in the range of 12-15 million. He could easily get Fletcher Cox money, and Cox got 6 years, $102 million last year. Atkins is the type of player that this team needs to keep to be successful and the Bengals will look to get this deal done sooner, rather than later.
Another starter on defense is up for a contract renewal – former first round pick Darqueze Dennard. Dennard earned starting snaps for the first time in his career last year with being 2nd on defense with 899. He caught 2 interceptions with 6 pass deflections along with 59 tackles. With Dennard performing well in his first full season played, the Bengals could be looking to extend him before his value could rise in the offseason.
The cap hit for an extension to Dennard would not likely exceed his current cap hit off 8.52 Million by much, if at all. I do not see the Bengals wanting to spend too much toward the cornerback position with paying Kirkpatrick the rest of his 5-year deal and William Jackson becoming a free agent after the 2020 season.
The Bengals have a couple of tight ends that will hit free agency this upcoming offseason. One of them, Tyler Eifert, just got a new 1 year contract worth 5.5 million, so he’s going to have to prove that he can stay healthy before the Bengals will extend him further. They do have two more tight ends that could see a deal in their future in Tyler Kroft and CJ Uzomah. The Bengals are realistically only going to resign one of the two with the hopes that they will retain Eifert next offseason.
Tyler Kroft was a third round pick out of Rutgers in 2015 and started all 16 games last season with playing the 6th most snaps on offense with 825. Kroft scored 7 touchdowns on 42 catches for 402 yards in 2017 and has talked of a possible extension. With the absence of Eifert for the season, Kroft stepped up as a reliable target and did produce. He isn’t the best blocker, so that is something the Bengals will look at when the decision is made on which tight end to keep. Kroft’s cap hit for the season is right at 2 million and an extension could be a raise of around 3-5 million over 2-4 years.
Now to the other tight end with an expiring contract, CJ Uzomah. Uzomah was drafted in the 5th round out of Auburn in 2015, the same year as Kroft. Uzomah has not had the playing time that Kroft has earned, but has shown flashes in his appearances. Uzomah did start 4 games last season, but only hauled in 10 catches for 92 yards and added one touchdown to the stat line. An extension for Uzomah seems less probable since the Bengals haven’t used him as much, but that also could be a reason to extend him. With only playing so much, they could get Uzomah at a discount compared to Kroft. I could see the Bengals doing this if they trust in Eifert’s future.
The Bengals have made some deals like these before the start of the season in previous years. Look to Dunlap and Atkins for the deals that the Bengals need to focus on getting done before the season because their prices will jump if we were to see them hit the open market in this upcoming free agency.