The Cincinnati Bengals will have to make some challenging decisions this offseason, as they'll have 14 unrestricted free agents when free agency gets underway in March. Two of those unrestricted free agents are D.J. Reader and Chidobe Awuzie, who signed with the Bengals in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
Reader missed a large chunk of the 2020 season but has been solid in 2021, 2022, and 2023. Awuzie played nearly lights out in 2021 and the first half of 2022 before he tore his ACL. This year he's clearly been hampered by that injury but he's stepped his game up since Cam Taylor-Britt landed on IR.
Both of these players are nearing the age of 30, which doesn't help their case when it comes to the Bengals re-signing them. Between the two, fans would love to have Reader back in the Stripes but will the Bengals opt to bring back a 29-year-old defensive tackle?
What are the projected contracts for Reader and Awuzie?
Brad Spielberger of PFF put together his list of the 50 best free agents for next offseason while sharing what those players' future contracts could look like. Reader and Awuzie appeared on the list (Tee Higgins did as well, but we already discussed his contract projection) with Reader coming in at number 19 and Awuzie sitting at 26th.
Spielberger has Reader earning a three-year deal worth $45.75 million with an annual salary of $15.25 million and $29.75 million guaranteed.
"Only injuries have slowed Reader down in Cincinnati. Otherwise, he has been a dominant force on the interior of a talented defensive line that was able to control the line of scrimmage and win big games up front over the past few seasons, with Reader the anchor in the middle.- Brad Spielberger
Reader is as stout as they come and nearly impossible to displace by just one blocker. And while he’ll never fill up the stat sheet with sacks, he can push the pocket and free up teammates as well as any nose tackle."
Reader has been a great addition to the Bengals' defense but I don't see them spending this kind of money on a player pushing 30. Another team won't hesitate to pay Reader what he's worth so it feels as though he'll be suiting up elsewhere in 2024.
As for Awuzie, Spielberger has the cornerback inking a two-year worth $23 million with an annual salary of $11.5 million and $13.75 million guaranteed.
"Awuzie was one of a series of slam-dunk free-agent acquisitions for the Cincinnati Bengals over the past few years, providing the team with a bona fide No. 1 outside cornerback for just $7.25 million annually. Awuzie tore his ACL in 2022, and the Bengals have used four Day 2 picks on defensive backs over the past two draft classes, which signals he should be testing out free agency once again. He has returned to form nicely in 2023, though."- Brad Spielberger
Awuzie definitely struggled in the earlier portion of the season but as stated above, he's been playing better in recent weeks. Ultimately, I don't see the Bengals signing him for this amount of money since he's pushing 30 and the team has invested in draft picks in their secondary.
Now that the Bengals have paid Joe Burrow and Logan Wilson and will soon have to pony up and pay Ja'Marr Chase, they're not going to be able to spend as frivolously in free agency. That's when things will get interesting for this front office.