Players entering the final year of their contract always play with something to prove. After contract extensions for two Bengals favorites, who is next?
Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap both have become franchise players, and household names on the Bengals defense. Both established pro bowlers, Dunlap and Atkins were the top priority to be resigned before the season. Trailing franchise leader Eddie Edwards, who has 83.5 sacks, Dunlap is second on the Bengals’ All-Time sacks list with 64.5 and Atkins is not far behind with 61. Edwards technically had 47.5, but during his first five seasons sacks weren’t recorded as an official stat.
In their 8th season with the Bengals, the franchise finally showed their faith by extending them. Atkins was signed to a four-year extension through 2022 and will make $65 million. Couple that with him making $25.5 million this year alone. Dunlap was signed to a three-year extension through 2021, and will make $45 million over that time span. With the two-headed monster on defense signed, who is now playing for their contract extension this season.
Secondary is Second to None
Following both Atkins and Dunlap, Bengals’ cornerback Darqueze Dennard should be the next player to be resigned. Going into his fifth year, Dennard showed what he could do as a starter last season. Having limited playing time up until that point, Dennard was the 32nd best cornerback and is entering the final year of his rookie contract under a fifth-year option. Locking up his position as a starter, Dennard is proving what the Bengals saw when they drafted him in the first round of the 2014 draft (24th overall) out of Michigan State.
With the scrutinized contract for fellow cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson rising as a shut down corner, Dennard needs to build upon his breakout season last year and prove his worth. The team went and drafted Darius Phillips and Davontae Harris, who have both played inconsistently in the preseason. Theoretically, they could provide a future option if Dennard has a bad season. With both of them and rookie stud Jessie Bates showing their flexibility in multiple positions, Dennard will have a lot to prove to keep him a Bengal.
After Dennard, Who’s Next?
Many familiar faces are entering the final year of their contracts and looking to stick around. While it may not be possible to keep everyone, there are a few guys who could be extended for a discount after breakout seasons. The first who stands out is Preston Brown. The NFL leader in tackles just a season ago (144), if Brown can build on his total tackles and lead this team while Vontaze Burfict is suspended, it would be crazy to not offer him a deal. With how injury prone the linebacker corps is, Brown could provide a backbone to build around.
Another player who has continued to stave off competition for his position is offensive guard Trey Hopkins. If he continues to play well and provide excellent protection for Andy Dalton, he could be very well the recipient of an extension. Hoping to learn from the loss of Andrew Whitworth, and Kevin Zeitler taking more money with the Browns, Hopkins would fit a dire need for this team on the offensive line.
Could This Be the Year Eifert Stays Healthy?
Also entering the final year of his contract is highly touted tight end Tyler Eifert. Being a large target downfield and in the red zone, the only downside is his ability to stay healthy. If he does prevent injury and become the tight end every one knows he can be, will that automatically mean contract extension though?
Taking a bet that Eifert could get injured isn’t a very nice one, but a very logical one based on his history. Say he does get injured again, then what? The Bengals have two very improving tight ends in Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah who could see significant playing time and are both playing in their final years as well. All it would take is for either of them to shine if given the opportunity, and all of a sudden the team has a tough decision to make. I wish Eifert does have a break out season, but giving these guys a shot to become the starter wouldn’t be impossible either.
With other players such as Alex Erickson, Cedric Ogbuehi, Vincent Rey, and Randy Bullock among others, this season will be an audition to stick around. Each player has the potential and ability to improve given the right situation and system, so I would expect each to play with a chip on their shoulder. The obvious choices for immediate resigning are completed in Atkins and Dunlap, but who will join them moving forward?