As painful as losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship was, it's time to move forward and look ahead to the future of this team. While next year will no doubt have more important decisions regarding pending free agents (2020 draftees like Joe Burrow-- though he'll likely be extended soon--, Tee Higgins, and Logan Wilson will be at the end of their rookie contracts), this year has quite a few notable Bengals with expiring contracts, and more likely than not we'll be seeing some of those departing from Cincinnati during free agency.
Eli Apple, Samaje Perine, and Hayden Hurst are set to become free agents this year, though in their case I believe they'll be returning for the 2023 NFL season, if only for one or two more years. None of them will have a bank-breaking contract, and they all serve their role on their respective sides of the ball.
The rest mentioned in this article, however, are players I do think will not be a part of this Bengals team when next season starts, whether it be not getting the contract they want or getting a better one somewhere else.
As unfortunate as this is, big paydays are on the horizon and, sadly, you can't keep everyone. Here are some Bengals that we'll sadly miss in 2023.
Jessie Bates III/Vonn Bell
Don't panic, I don't think both of these guys are leaving. I'm just certain one of them will be.
The popular opinion/assumption right now is that Bates will be off to sign with another team this off-season. He's going to cost a lot to sign (according to Spotrac his annual salary will probably be in the ballpark of $14 million) and that's money the front office will need to use toward more impactful guys like Ja'Marr Chase, Burrow, or even Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader-- the latter three of which are on contract years in 2024.
Though it could be Bell who leaves, as he's a free agent as well and is slightly older than Bates. Either way, it's almost guaranteed that one of these guys will leave Cincy during free agency, as they drafted Dax Hill in the first to prepare for this. Since Bates is who everyone suspects, I'll mostly make this entry about him, as I agree that he'll likely not be re-signed while Bell stays in Cincinnati and starts alongside Hill.
Bates was picked in the 2018 draft in the second round out of Wake Forest, and very early on in his career, he was a bright spot for some downright abysmal Bengals squads. Alas, it seemed just as the team got good, the standout safety regressed, as the last two years, he hasn't been as good as he was during his first three years in the league.
He had his moments, including an impressive 2021 post-season to make up for a lackluster 2021 regular season, but I don't think the front office will believe those flashes will be enough to put the $10 million on the table that Jessie is looking for.