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Bengals 2016 free agents: Which Bengals are set to become free agents in March?

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The Bengals could lose several key players this offseason if they are unable to re-sign guys like Adam Jones, George Iloka and Reggie Nelson among others.

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up a great regular season that sadly ended too soon in the postseason.

Now comes the time to focus of who will be back next year from this team that won 12 games and was a Super Bowl contender before Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury. It won't be easy replicating that success, especially since Cincinnati is expected to lose offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, and potentially other current coaches, too.

But regardless of which coaches leave, games are ultimately won and lost by the players, and it won't be long until the Bengals must make some hard decisions regarding next year's roster. As of now, there are 15 players set to hit free agency in March, unless their contracts are extended between now and then.

The good news is, it could be worse as two of the Bengals' best players were previously set to be part of that group but were given contract extensions before and during the 2015 season. Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green got a monster contract over the summer, and All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth got a one-year extension through 2016 at the start of the season.

Those two would have easily been the top free agents needing to be re-signed, but with them locked up, Cincinnati can focus on other players. Here's a quick look at the players currently set to hit free agency in March:

PLAYER

POS.

AGE

FROM

TO

2015 CAP HIT

STATUS

Leon Hall CB 31 CIN TBD $9,600,000 UFA
Andre Smith RT 28 CIN TBD $6,362,500 UFA
Reggie Nelson FS 32 CIN TBD $4,775,000 UFA
Vincent Rey ILB 28 CIN TBD $3,100,000 UFA
Adam Jones CB 32 CIN TBD $2,550,000 UFA
Emmanuel Lamur OLB 26 CIN TBD $2,356,000 UFA
Wallace Gilberry DE 31 CIN TBD $2,050,000 UFA
Mohamed Sanu WR 26 CIN TBD $1,682,813 UFA
George Iloka SS 25 CIN TBD $1,582,075 UFA
Eric Winston RT 32 CIN TBD $950,000 UFA
Brandon Thompson DT 26 CIN TBD $795,300 UFA
Marvin Jones WR 25 CIN TBD $700,700 UFA
Brandon Tate WR 28 CIN TBD $665,000 UFA
Pat Sims DT 30 CIN TBD $665,000 UFA
T.J. Johnson C 25 CIN TBD $510,000 ERFA

As you can see, there are some big names who could be leaving Cincinnati. It's not realistic to expect all of these players to get re-signed, but the Bengals must avoid losing too many of them if they want to make another run at the playoffs next season.

During Marvin Lewis' Monday afternoon press conference he expressed optimism regarding resigning many of the team's free agents saying he doesn't think there will be as much change as you may think. " I feel good about things," Lewis said. "I think the core is here. Positionally, we're in good shape."

He added that free agency and losing players is "part of the system" and that he expects most of the team's free agents want to be back with the team next year and that players like it in Cincinnati.

"The NFL system, it works," Lewis said. "Hopefully we can get you back here and you feel good about it."

Also, you'll see backup center T.J. Johnson is listed as an exclusive rights free agent. An ERFA is a veteran player with less than three accrued NFL seasons. These players are limited to either signing the contract tendered to him by his current team, or not playing in the NFL that season.

If a team chooses not to tender a contract to an ERFA, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. It's possible the Bengals tender Johnson and keep him as competition for an interior offensive line spot on next year's team.

Here is Pro Football Focus' look at all of the Bengals' free agents based on the number of snaps (on offense/defense only -- not including special teams) they played and their PFF grade in 2015:

Name

2015 PFF grade

Position

2015 snaps

Reggie Nelson

83.9

S

1,074

Marvin Jones

79

WR

925

Andre Smith Jr.

36.6

OT

907

Adam Jones

84.4

CB

871

Vincent Rey

43.7

LB

744

Leon Hall

79.7

CB

677

Mohamed Sanu

52.8

WR

661

George Iloka

82.6

S

654

Wallace Gilberry

69.4

ED

641

Emmanuel Lamur

39.7

LB

342

Pat Sims

66.4

ID

187

Brandon Thompson

51.9

ID

184

Eric Winston

48.9

OT

176

Brandon Tate

70.8

WR

9

As of now, 10 players who either started or played more than 300 snaps in 2015 will become free agents, including two starting corners, both starting safeties and two starting receivers who played at least 650 snaps each this past season.

The best player of the bunch this year was Adam Jones, who became one of the NFL's best corners and someone who Cincinnati could count on to hamstring opponents' best receivers. Depending on what the Bengals want to do with fellow starting corner Leon Hall and how they feel about a tandem of Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick going forward will determine if Jones is attempted to be re-signed. The Bengals' biggest free agent priorities are likely both Adam and Marvin Jones as well as Iloka.

The Bengals will likely pass on re-signing right tackle Andre Smith after drafting two tackles in the first two rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft, so him being back is a long-shot. In the locker room today, Smith apparently didn't want to talk but said, "everything will work out."

It's debatable whether 31-year-old Wallace Gilberry will be back after getting just 3.5 sacks over the past two seasons. If he is brought back, it shouldn't be for $2 million per season, like he made in 2015.

I'd expected Emmanuel Lamur to re-sign on a one-year 'prove it' type of deal after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Fellow linebacker Vincent Rey should also be brought back for what he's done for the Bengals on defense and special teams. He was the Bengals' leading tackler this season.

However the Bengals decide to use their cap space, they'll have a lot of it. Per Spotrac, Cincinnati is set to have $35 million in cap space this offseason, the ninth-most of any team. Hopefully, they'll use most of it to keep their own and nab a few quality free agents.