The future of the Bengals will largely be determined by how they handle the next 10 months.
Between now and then, several of their most prominent players will become free agents. Andre Smith, Andrew Whitworth, Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Leon Hall, and Marvin Jones are easily among the 10-12 best Bengals players heading into the 2015 season, but all remain unsigned for 2016.
Beware the 2016 Free Agent Class of Doom
The Bengals have 14 major contributors entering contract years in 2015. If the team extends the right players and drafts solid replacements for the ones that leave, they can get through this fork in the road safely. So, who should stay and who can the team afford to let go?
That's one of the NFL's best starting-tackle tandems, both Bengals starting safeties, the team's No. 1 corner, and No. 2 and 3 receivers. Losing that much in one year is a good way to go from perennial playoff team to drafting in the top 10.
There's also the case of A.J. Green, whose contract expires next year. But, it's clear Cincinnati is keeping the franchise tag in their back pocket to ensure he doesn't leave in 2016. Still, you don't want your best long-term player without the security of a long-term deal heading into the next season.
The Bengals don't typically like to get extensions done until they're into training camp. Over the next few weeks however, it's likely they begin contract talks with their biggest impending free agents. They'll do this in hopes a deal can be struck as soon as camp opens, or a few weeks into the preseason.
Who do you most want to see resigned before the 2015 season begins?