Vincent Rey's continued emergence on Sunday is just another example of the Bengals' depth paying dividends this year, but this depth will also reward the team in the near future. It will ensure the team's success and its ability to maintain its most important pieces.
In the next two years several key contributors will become free agents. This list includes Taylor Mays, Michael Johnson, Vontaze Burfict, Domata Peko, Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey, Anthony Collins, Jermaine Gresham, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Clint Boling, Andy Dalton, AJ Green and more. This lengthy list of players will require a substantial amount of money and making the right decisions will be key.
Rey Maualuga may be one of the odd men out in the near future as the linebacking core has significant depth and is even getting contributions from safeties in nickel packages. Retaining Vincent Rey should be a priority in the coming year. He’ll never command the money that Maualuga does and could potentially replace him in the middle. He isn't a liability in coverage situations giving the position a possible upgrade. Maualuga is more suited to be a SAM backer with run stopping responsibilities. But the team currently possesses James Harrison and Jason DiManche, both of whom are making solid contributions to the team. With the return of their pass-covering linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Sean Porter, the Bengals will also have the option of moving Vontaze Burfict into the middle.
- Maualuga 2yr/$6.5 (Free Agent 2015)
- Rey 1yr/$0.63 (FA 2014)
- DiManche 3yr/$1.5 (FA 2016)
Cedric Peerman has shown an ability to get the tough yards much like BenJarvus Green-Ellis while also possessing better agility, speed and hands. He would potentially complete a three-man backfield corps of Giovanni Bernard, Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman. BenJarvus may be another player to move on in 2015.
- Green-Ellis 3yr/$9 (FA 2015)
- Peerman 2yr/$2.515 (FA 2015)
The Bengals invested in Margus Hunt to potentially replace Michael Johnson at defensive end. As much as I love Michael Johnson, the Bengals cannot keep everyone and this huge saving will be key to keeping other stars. The Bengals should do everything they can to keep him but in reality it's going to be up to Johnson; they simply can't pay all of these great players the top dollars they deserve.
- Johnson 1yr/$11.175 (FA 2014)
- Hunt 4yr/$3.671 (FA 2017)
Marvin Jones' and the receiving corps surge in production as well as possessing Orson Charles makes Jermaine Gresham potentially expendable. It’s a good idea to train Orson as an H-back for versatility but completely removing him from the tight end picture negates the versatility idea. Gresham’s inconsistency has been well documented but if he could just put it all together his place on this team would be a lock. Luckily Gresham’s contract runs through next year so an immediate decision isn’t necessary.
- Gresham 5yr/$15.85 (FA 2015)
- Charles 4yr/$2.529 (FA 2016)
Brandon Thompson has recently been given an opportunity to show that he deserves a spot in the rotation as a running stopping force. The Bengals have a young core at defensive tackle with Geno Atkins, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, while Larry Black was having a good camp before his injury. Knowing this, 2015 may bring an end to Domata Peko’s tenure with the Bengals. It should also be noted if the team needs extra money this coming off-season cutting Peko would produce 3.925 million in cap space. This move is highly unlikely, as the team’s finances seem to be in order preparing for a big off-season.
- Peko 7yr/$30.3 (FA 2015)
- Thompson 4yr/$2.636 (FA 2016)
Cutting Kyle Cook is a possibility and would save 2.06 million in cap space (1.28 million in dead money). Kyle Cook is a polarizing figure. The team invested in him a couple years ago prior to a significant ankle injury. His play since frustrates fans at times but the team loves his ability to diagnose plays. Trevor Robinson has been the back up the past couple of seasons and seems to have more physical ability at this point; it’s a debate worth thinking about.
- Kyle Cook 5yr/$15.835 (FA 2016)
- Trevor Robinson 3yr/$1.446 (FA 2015)
Cutting Robert Geathers would save 3.15 million in cap space. This is the most interesting move because one would assume that the team would need to draft one or two defensive ends to replace Geathers and Michael Johnson. The option to line up James Harrison and/or Jason DiManche as down linemen looks to be a good one considering how both players have stepped up in recent weeks while the Bengals are learning to deal with their injuries. With the Bengals often keeping six to seven linebackers but often playing in nickel sets, this dual role could provide a bigger role in the defense for some of these linebackers. This move could prove to be a very real possibility.
- Robert Geathers 3yr/$9.5 (FA 2016)
All these decisions will be considered while taking into account within the next two years there is potentially five key Bengals who will require pay raises (and a few significant):
- Burfict 3yr/$1.441 (FA 2015): Need: $8-10 (Top 3-10 LBs)
- Dalton 4yr/$5.214 (FA 2015): Need: $ 6-8 (Average QBs)
- Green 4yr/$19.689 (FA 2015): Need: $10-15 (Top 1-3 WRs)
- Boling 4yr/$2.512 (FA 2015): Need: $1-2
- Collins 2yr/$2.825 (FA 2014): Need: $1-2
(* All these "Need" estimates are based on average yearly salary of comparable players)
The Bengals have proven to possess an ability to draft well and revive the careers of struggling veterans. They have shown a penchant for developing undrafted free agents. But they have only recently displayed an ability to spend their money wisely. In the coming years they will be faced with many difficult decisions regarding which players to retain and which to release to free agency. The depth of the Bengals' current roster should make these decisions much easier by alloting them the money to retain their stars.