A challenging job figures to be the capologist for the Cincinnati Bengals.
When the new league year kicks off on March 11, 2014, the Cincinnati Bengals will sport a collection of high-profile free agents that could be who's who in free agency rankings. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap headline the Bengals A-list free agency group in 2014. Don't expect the no-interest Andre Smith story either; who signs a contract far less than he was reportedly looking for because no one was interested. We're probably talking about ground-breaking contracts in relation to the money that the team has historically given to non-rookies.
Geno Atkins won't receive Ndamukong Suh's rookie contract, worth $60 million over five years with $40 million guaranteed. No, not Suh. That contract is representative of rookie deals prior to the player's first NFL snap -- an era we're grateful no longer exists. Let's figure something north of Haloti Ngata's 2011 extension worth $48.5 million over five years with $27.1 million guaranteed. If Michael Johnson receives an extension near what the top defensive ends are receiving, we're possibly looking at something between $11-12 million per season with over $25 million guaranteed. Carlos Dunlap, viewed as the better pass rusher, could figure extensively with a significant pay day. The market will always be more economically beneficial to pass rushers, compared to defensive tackles (though one should argue Atkins as a pass rusher... ya'think?).
Ideally the Bengals sign everyone without any hindering salary cap implications down the road. Let's party. Whistlers for everyone. Realistically, the Bengals might be lucky to re-sign two. Atkins is the premiere tackle in the NFL and the obvious favorite. Dunlap might be more viable than Johnson, but not because he's more talented. Rather injuries and lasting durability concerns may keep his market value down.
Then the Bengals have a real challenge.
In 2015, Cincinnati will have expiring contracts with nine starters.
Wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton will figure heavily next year with discussions. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis may have to string together a career-year just keep those doors open; otherwise there's players developing underneath to replace both. Linebacker Rey Maualuga is similarly challenged. Offensive guard Clint Boling probably won't be expensive, but the NFL is caked with historical evidence when above-average players play lights out during contract years.
Linebacker James Harrison, if he continues after his current two-year deal, doesn't figure to have a career longer than a year-to-year basis. Defensive tackle Domata Peko wants to rework his deal, but the Bengals are loaded with other players to worry about. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be an exclusive-rights free agent, so unless the Bengals fail to submit a tender, he's staying in Cincinnati.
These are typical issues facing teams with developing talent, projecting as significant contributors for sustained success. However the Bengals haven't been the most reliable re-signing their own players until recently, successfully re-upping with Andre Smith and franchising Michael Johnson. And we'd be hard pressed to believe that Cincinnati would avoid the franchise tag for the next year offseasons. Either way, this storyline will be one that continues for as long as the Bengals have an open window.