One of the most talented young players on the Bengals is right guard Kevin Zeitler. He is also one of 17 players on the Bengals' current roster set to be a free agent next year.
At this point in his career, Zeitler is one of the best offensive players in the league with only a year remaining on their contract. In fact, he's specifically the eighth ranked offensive player set to become a free agent in 2017, according to our friends at Pro Football Focus.
PFF's ranking is based on the highest graded players using their grading system last year. Zeitler's +84.6 grade on the season just goes to show you how consistently impressive and reliable he was over the course of the season. That kind of tenacity and consistency is something the Bengals value very highly in an offensive lineman, and it's sure bet that the Bengals will work hard to extend Zeitler's contract this offseason.
There are other great offensive players on the Bengals set to be free agents next year like Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard, but injuries as well as games where they generally disappeared probably kept their grades from really reflecting their level of talent. However, their performances in 2015 were huge reasons why the Bengals' offense performed so well. Losing them after next year would be just as devastating as losing Zeitler.
Zeitler joined the Bengals in 2012 as the No. 27 overall pick and has been a mainstay at the right guard position throughout his career. He replaced Bobbie Williams and ever since, has held down the starting position with an iron fist, save for a few games missed here and there due to minor injuries.
This year, the Bengals have been busy in free agency. As of the end of the 2015 season, 15 players were set to become unrestricted free agents, seven of whom were starters. Next year might be just as hectic as 17 players are currently set to become free agents, seven of whom were starters in 2015. They could very well reach new contract deals with many of those players between now and next year, but it's still something to take into consideration.
If the Bengals allow Zeitler to test the free agent market and don't re-sign him before March 2017, it may be difficult for the Bengals to put up a competitive offer with what Zeitler could attract in free agency. That's not to say they won't value his contributions. But, very few guards can offer what he will bring to the table for any team willing to pay him what he's worth. In fact, just last year, he was the only right guard in the entire league who allowed no sacks on at least 500 pass blocks, according to PFF. That kind of efficiency is rare and could pique the interest of many teams in need of offensive line help.
Still, the Bengals tend to make the effort to be generous to their own players. Don't forget Andy Dalton's blockbuster deal, or the contract they offered Marvin Jones (that he turned down). It seems likely that, as long as Zeitler wants to return to the Bengals, they will make every effort to bring him back. Without much competition at his position, why wouldn't he want to stay?