Due to the nature and overall structure of the salary cap, teams often decide to release veterans on the tail-end of a contract, enabling the organization to sign other players, or at the very least keep core players without the penalty of going over the cap. For the Bengals we realize that the issue of cutting players to save salary cap room isn't likely to happen this year for the insane amount that Cincinnati is under the cap, unlike previous years with guys like Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones (who was dealing with knee degradation issues). That being said if the Bengals cut players for salary cap reasons, these players could be the quickest to go.
Why he could get cut: After generating 10.5 quarterback sacks during a breakout 2006 season, Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers has only posted 13.5 sacks in his previous five seasons (72 games played). However Geathers is expected to earn $4.2 million (which is the same as his cap number) in 2012 after a season in which he was rated as the team's worst defensive player by Pro Football Focus.
Why he won't (that doesn't include lack of need to cut based on salary cap issues): Depth and rotation. Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker will be free agents next month, meaning that if the team is unable to sign either defensive end, then they'll need to focus on stabilizing their depth -- especially with some durability concerns with Carlos Dunlap. And since the team's salary cap won't be problematic, forcing the organization to release a player to free up cap space, Geathers would likely stick around, even though, again, Pro Football Focus rated him as the team's worst defensive player in 2011.
Why he could be cut: Bengals cornerback Nate Clements, a former salary cap casualty with the San Francisco 49ers, is due to make $4.3 million in 2012 with a cap figure of $5.5 million, second highest on the team. Though one could argue that the Bengals have a desperate need for cornerbacks, there's no reason to believe that the Bengals won't do exactly that through free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft. According to Pro Football Focus, only one defensive player on Cincinnati's roster scored a worse pass coverage score of -5.7 (Kelly Jennings at -6.6).
Why he won't (that doesn't include lack of need to cut based on salary cap issues): To put it bluntly, the Bengals value his leadership and veteran presence. There were few defensive leaders like Clements. Additionally whatever flawed performance he posted in 2011 can't be judged with tremendous weight due to a single factor: The NFL lockout in 2011 that forced Clements to sign right before training camp, contributing towards a slower integration into Mike Zimmer's defense. Now Clements will have an entire offseason with the coaching staff, continuing his understanding without the need of thinking through the processes, thus increasing his reactions.
And yes. He gradually did get better over the course of the season. In the final five games of the year (including the Wild Card game against the Houston Texans), Clements only posted game with an opposing quarterback rating higher than 80.
Why he could get cut: After missing the entire 2011 with an injured wrist, the Cincinnati Bengals could decide to release Rivers with an injury settlement if his rehabilitation with his wrist continues to take its time. Currently Rivers is expected to make $2 million in 2012 with a cap figure of $2,537,499, thus deciding to abandon the Keith Rivers era, which has been unexceptional to say the least. Though he was second on the team in tackles behind Dhani Jones in 2009 and 2010, there was always a void -- how many game-defining plays do you remember that Rivers made?
Why he won't (that doesn't include lack of need to cut based on salary cap issues): Though Rivers has disappointed a lot of fans who expected the child of Rey Lewis and God to be selected ninth overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, Rivers is one of the team's more consistent tacklers and from 2009-2010, he generated the least amount of yards allowed per tackle during running plays. Additionally Manny Lawson, Brandon Johnson and Vincent Rey will be free agents this year and since there isn't a need to save against the salary cap, and the relatively manageable cap number, the Bengals are likely to play it safe by keeping the roster stocked as much as possible... at least for now.
Why he could get cut: Crocker, projected with a $2.125 million cap figure, struggled in 2011, allowing three touchdowns and an opposing passer rating of 93.3. Crocker, who turns 32 in March, has failed to generate an interception in 33 straight games (including the postseason) with his last pick coming against the Oakland Raiders on November 22, 2009.
Why he won't (that doesn't include lack of need to cut based on salary cap issues): Quite frankly his salary cap figure is minimal within the scope of this discussion. In other words if he's released, it won't be for his salary -- it'll be for his production. Even though he's still an effective pass rusher (5.5 quarterback sacks in the past two seasons), Crocker's future with Cincinnati greatly benefits being a team with a depleted secondary. Unless the Bengals can rebuild safety and cornerback position, along with his relatively low cap number, Crocker is unlikely going anywhere.