Everyone has seen the massive list of Cincinnati Bengals free agents for 2016. We've analyzed it, we've addressed who needs to be kept, and we've discussed who might be OK to let go. But what if Cincinnati has to drop a few players who are under contract in order to keep their important free agents? There may be players who could become cap casualties on the roster this year.
The good news is, Cincinnati has a ton of money available, but that doesn't mean they'll have enough to avoid difficult personnel decisions. Many players have developed their talents in Cincinnati, and will want star money. Take Marvin Jones for instance who says he wants $7 million per year, something the Bengals may or may not be able to provide him with. Some under-achievers could be shown the door if the Bengals are willing to meet demands like that.
One of these potential victims is Domata Peko, whose cap hit is $3.725 million this coming season, or 2.31 percent of the Bengals' salary cap, according to Spotrac. When looking at this past season, Peko had one of his best years in the NFL. He had five sacks, which is a career-high for him and looked much more effective than in past seasons. However, on a league-wide scale, he was tied for 67th in sacks in 2015. As for tackles, Peko was tied for 358th with 35 tackles. Peko had one of his best seasons, but in relation to the entire league it was still quite underwhelming. The price tag on Peko is a bit too high for the services he provides, and the Bengals might find it in their best interest to cut him loose (although we would all miss his incredibly entertaining sack dance).
Peko is not the only familiar face that Cincinnati fans might not see back in a Bengals uniform in 2016. Rey Maualuga is at risk of becoming a cap casualty as well, as he is due to get $4,084,375 in 2016. Maualuga's 2016 salary would rank 24th in the league among all inside linebackers, which seems reasonable, but Spotrac ranks Maualuga 52nd in the league in true value among inside linebackers, and the fact that he's only taking 57.43 percent of the snaps on defense is one reason why he is ranked so low. Vincent Rey, who is set to be a free agent inside linebacker, took more snaps than Maualuga in 2015 and could take over the inside linebacker position if the Bengals retain him. The Bengals have options to replace Maualuga ranging from internal depth to free agency and the draft, should they decide to part ways with Maualuga to save some money.
It's also important to note that Maualuga and Peko being released would cause the team no dead money. The Bengals often structure contracts wisely as to allow themselves to cut players with little to no repercussions and such is the case with both Peko and Maualuga's deals. That is a big factor into them both being potential cap casualties. Other veterans who could be cut in 2016 with no dead money attached include linebacker A.J. Hawk and kicker Mike Nugent.
The Bengals could also look at cutting down on their number of defensive ends by dropping Margus Hunt. Hunt's cap hit in 2016 is $1,168,077 and he hasn't proven he deserves to be given any more chances. If the Bengals choose to resign Wallace Gilberry as a free agent that would further incentivize cutting Hunt. In 2015, Hunt had two combined tackles in just seven games played and he has only had 12 combined tackles throughout his entire career. He undoubtedly has been one of the biggest letdowns among recent Bengals draft picks. On top of that, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are taking up more than $12 million of Cincinnati's cap space in 2016, so cutting down on the payload going to that position would be helpful.
The Bengals could have a tough road ahead of them with free agency this offseason. It may come down to making cuts from the roster in order to create room for players with more potential. Making cuts isn't easy, especially on a team as deep as Cincinnati was this past season, but there are players who are not quite worth their price tag and they may become cap casualties this offseason.