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Bengals remaining cap space and juggling act for upcoming free agents

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Some key Bengals need to be re-signed soon, or else they may leave the team next offseason.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have done well at building a playoff-caliber team full of home-grown talent, and that hopefully will continue into 2017 as several impending free agents need to be re-signed.

According to the most recent salary cap report by the NFLPA, the Bengals are down to just $9,692,461 in cap space. A big reason why the Bengals are so low on money for the 2016 season is due to the new deal that running back Giovani Bernard received. His new contract gives him a $4,621,517 cap hit in 2016, so it may prove challenging to get other key guys re-signed. But it helps that the Bengals carried over $7,587,902 from last year, which is included in that nearly $10 million remaining.

Almost all of that carryover cap is accounted for, though, after new deals were given to Bernard and safety Shawn Williams this offseason. People frequently knock the Bengals for not being active in free agency, but you can see why when it's taking up most of the cap just to get their own players re-signed every year. The team's ability to Draft players worthy of second contracts is why the Bengals don't need to look to free agency as much as other teams.

Looking ahead to 2018, guys like tight end Tyler Eifert, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and running back Jeremy Hill will either need to contracts or enter free agency. Other players to consider re-signing include backup quarterback AJ McCarron and enigmatic center Russell Bodine, though, it's highly unlikely either would receive an extension in 2016.

That makes it possible that the Bengals look to carry over a lot of their current cap space into the 2017 offseason to help get those 2018 free agents extended. It's a tough thing to balance since teams are going to have key free agents every year. Distributing the money among different offseasons in 'hopes' of re-signing certain players resembles that of an A.J. Green juggling act.

Among the Bengals' biggest players needing to be re-signed this year include offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler. The No. 1 guy Cincinnati is likely prioritizing right now is Zeitler, one of the NFL's better guards who is set to play the final year of his rookie deal in 2016.

The good thing with Zeitler is re-signing him shouldn't cost much more in terms of his 2016 cap hit. He's already set to make $8,070,000 this year under the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. Extending him would likely feature little-to-no change this season, while giving him more years and money in 2017 and beyond.

Between Whit, Zeitler and Kirkpatrick this year, while considering guys like Hill, Eifert and Burfict next year, how do you think the Bengals should prioritize getting their top guys re-signed?