The Bengals have two of their best players in Dunlap and Atkins up for free agency next season, but they may have to make a tough decision.
I admit I may be jumping the gun a little bit worrying about possible free agents for next offseason. However, there is a strong possibility that this may be the last year we get to see Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins playing together on the Bengals.
I was having this very discussion with my friend Blake Clary off air after we completed one of our podcast for Four Corner Sports on the Bengals. We had a very nice debate on the issue and it raised this question. If the Bengals can only sign one of the two players, who should they sign?
The obvious answer is we all would want both of them back. That may not be a realistic option though, especially if the Bengals can’t get at least one of them extended before this season.
With Aaron Donald of the Rams looking to reset the market for not only defensive lineman, but for defensive players in general, the price for both Atkins and Dunlap could go up dramatically if the Bengals don’t extend them before Donald signs. The Bengals may have to ask themselves, then, who they want to prioritize. You all made it very clear you would prefer Atkins over Dunlap, but both players have their merits. Let’s break them both down.
Carlos Dunlap, at least once a season, seems to make a play that wins the game for the Bengals. Last season, Dunlap almost singlehandedly won the game against the Indianapolis Colts with his tip interception. Carlos Dunlap is a freak athletically – he could be an excellent tight end if he played offense. I honestly don’t think we have even seen the best of Carlos Dunlap yet, and that includes a 14.5 sack season.
Personal bias also would make me want to keep Dunlap because I have seen first hand the great things Dunlap does in the community. I am a teacher at an inner city school in Covington, and each year I get to bring one student to a program called Shop with a Jock. For this program, Bengals players take our students on a shopping spree at Dicks’ Sporting Goods. Carlos Dunlap has been there every single year that I have been there buying things for students and interacting with them.
So I would love to see the Bengals keep Dunlap, for both his work on and off the field. However when making decisions like this, it can’t be about personal bias. It has to be what’s best for the team to give them the best chance to win. When considering that, I believe Geno Atkins is the one they would need to sign.
Geno Atkins according to PFF, ranked as a top 5 DT in the NFL last year with a rating of 90.7, and was listed as “elite”. On the other hand, Carlos Dunlap was listed as the 31st ranked edge rusher with a rating of 77.4 , and was listed as average. As a caveat, PFF scores are not the be-all, end-all of analytics, so they should not be the only tool used to evaluate players. However, the scores do paint a picture of how valuable Atkins can be.
Finding a great defensive tackle pass rusher is a very difficult thing to do. We have seen that over the years, with how the Bengals have struggled to find someone to compliment Geno Atkins inside. When looking at the overall makeup of the Bengals roster, it seems like it would be easier to replace Dunlap than Atkins. One of the biggest reasons for that is a guy named Carl Lawson. With the emergence of Lawson as an edge rusher and the presence of Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard, it makes replacing Dunlap slightly easier than replacing Atkins.
I had a very similar conversation on Twitter back when Carlos Dunlap signed his first extension. A former writer for the Bengals named Joe Reedy felt like the Bengals made a mistake extending Dunlap first and not Michael Johnson. I thought the Bengals made the correct move back then by prioritizing Dunlap over Johnson, and it has shown that they were correct. This time around, as much as I love Carlos Dunlap, I feel like the right decision would be Geno Atkins.
As I was writing this article. The Bengals made the surprising cut of George Iloka to save money. It seems the Bengals may be trying to find away to avoid having to make a choice, and will try to keep both, if not more. Lets hope that is the case.