Once the 2023 season comes to a close, no matter how it goes for the Cincinnati Bengals, they will have quite a few players heading into free agency (assuming they aren't extended before the next league year begins on March 13th, 2024). Hitting the market will be a healthy mix of depth guys who are called on in the event of injury or blowout and consistent contributors/starters who see the field quite a bit, and may even be considered premium assets to hunt for once the legal tampering window opens.
Obviously, you can't re-sign everyone, so we as fans will likely be saying goodbye to faces we've grown to know and love over the past few seasons (*cough* Tee Higgins *cough*). I've said it in plenty of articles before this and I'll say it again here: the NFL, at the end of the day, is a business, and you can't shell out money for every player and what they see fit.
With all that being said, there are a few names that need to be on the depth chart for next season. Here are four in particular that stood out to me.
Hopefully, my rotten luck with bold predictions doesn't extend to gauging who will be re-signed.
Admittedly, I was hesitant to include Reader on this list. After all, he's hitting the NFL's dreaded age of 30-- when a lot of players seem to inexplicably fall off a cliff production-wise-- and even for how good he's been, he's had his fair share of injuries during his time in Cincinnati, missing nearly his entire first season as a Bengal in 2020 and seven more games in 2022. Thankfully, he remained mostly healthy in 2021 and this season, but it is still a risk to watch out for.
What made me most hesitant, however, is what Spotrac calculated his market value to be. $15 million a year is a little high for an interior defensive lineman who will be over the age of 30 by the start of next season, especially with a (likely record-breaking) Ja'Marr Chase extension on the horizon.
That being said, it doesn't mean he won't take a deal for less, it's just what this one sight specifically estimates he'll get offered in free agency. The Bengals front office proved they can bring guys back on relatively friendly deals this past off-season with re-signing Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson's extension. Both of those guys are getting less than $10 million a year which, with how they've played before and after these new contracts, seems like a bargain!
So, if the Bengals can bring Reader back for less than that $15 million/year price tag, they absolutely should. He's been the heart and soul of the run defense the past few seasons, and though it has struggled this year, I think it'll only get worse if they let him loose.
With how complacent this front office was this past off-season in free agency, and the fact that they don't have a strong record of drafting and developing D-linemen (and that's not including Myles Murphy), I don't have a lot of faith in Duke Tobin to find someone who will replace Reader's impact.