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Bengals working on extensions for 2017 free agents

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Giovani Bernard, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler and Ryan Hewitt will need new deals soon enough if they are to remain in Cincinnati long-term.

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Shawn Williams isn't the only guy who the Bengals hope will sign a contract extension this offseason.

Not long after Williams inked a new four-year extension, Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson reported that Cincinnati is also working to re-sign other impending 2017 free agents. Running back Giovani Bernard, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, right guard Kevin Zeitler and fullback/h-back Ryan Hewitt are among those slated to hit free agency next offseason, if they don't receive new deals between now and next March. Granted, Hewitt would be a restricted free agent in 2017, making him more easy to retain.

Those are guys who've been key to the Bengals' recent success, so it only makes sense that the team is working to re-sign them.

Per Hobson:

It’s believed they’re also working on extensions for other contract-year guys, such as running back Giovani Bernard and fullback Ryan Hewitt. Hewitt becomes a free agent after three years because he was undrafted.

They’d also like to get extensions for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and right guard Kevin Zeitler, playing on their fifth-year options as 2012 first-round picks.

Zeitler, now entering his fifth NFL season, has slowly become one of the NFL's better guards during his tenure. This past season, Zeitler had a great season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration as he finished the season tied as Pro Football Focus' 11th-ranked guard.

He did so while starting every game at right guard. Zeitler has only missed eight games through his first four seasons out of a possible 68 games (including the playoffs). Now, the question is whether Zeitler will remain with the Bengals for the long term.

His rookie contract ends in 2017, and he's set to play 2016 under the fifth-year option picked up last season. He'll be paid $8 million this coming season, making him one of the highest-paid guards in football. Zeitler is currently tied with Pittsburgh's David DeCastro for the second-highest 2016 cap hit by a guard as of now.

Bernard, who has been one of the best dual-threat backs in football, is also set to become a free agent next year for the first time in his pro career. Over his first three years in the NFL, Bernard has rushed for 2,105 yards on 495 carries (4.3 ypc) with 12 touchdowns. He's also caught 148 passes for 1,335 yards and five more scores.

That includes 730 rushing yards on 154 carries (4.7 ypc) and two scores with 49 catches for 472 yards this past season. Despite his 5-foot-9, 205-pound frame, Bernard has been pretty durable, missing just three games out of a possible 51 games (includes the playoffs).

Kirkpatrick, who became a full-time starting corner last year, is also entering what may end up being the most important season of his NFL career. He's been very erratic to this point, but If he shines in 2016, teams will be lining up to throw big-money contracts at him as good corners have become a premium in the NFL.

But if he struggles again, he may not get anything more than a two or three-year deal that pays him like an average starter. He's shown the potential for the former to happen, but the latter seems more realistic if he can't stay healthy enough to play close to his full ability.

Hewitt has been the team's starting fullback/h-back for the past two seasons, and he's done well enough that it sounds like Cincinnati is making him a priority this offseason. Part of that has to do with him being one of the youngest players on the roster, not to mention someone without a lot of wear and tear under his belt. Because he was an undrafted free agent in 2014, Hewitt only has three years on his deal and becomes a free agent next offseason.

Some of the aging veterans set to hit free agency next offseason include left tackle Andrew Whitworth, defensive tackle Domata Peko, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, running back Rex Burkhead and special teams ace Cedric Peerman. It's possible some of those guys also get extensions before or during the 2016 NFL season.