With Giovani Bernard locked up with a multi-year extension, the Bengals will continue to make offers to their 2017 free agents throughout the offseason and hopefully re-sign more of them to contract extensions.
Marvin Lewis says that after Gio Bernard's extension, #Bengals will work on getting other 2017 free agents under contract this summer.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) June 14, 2016
While Lewis hasn't directly mentioned anyone who will be getting a contract offer, it's fair to assume anyone who has seen the field or contributed to the team's success could see a potential deal on the table. There are a few particular players who are bound to see a deal, while others might not get a deal they like or any deal whatsoever. Here's a look at some of the Bengals the front office will need to think about re-signing.
Kevin Zeitler (Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA)): The Bengals' right guard will likely be the team's first priority, as he's been an above-average starter or better in each of his four years as a pro. Zeitler, one of the Bengals' two 2012 first-rounders, is still only 26-years-old and has plenty of great football ahead of him. He could be a hot commodity on the open market, especially considering how he's only missed eight games over four seasons. A team like Zeitler's hometown Packers, whose two starting guards will be free agents in 2017, would likely love to swipe him from Cincinnati. Fortunately for the Bengals, Zeitler seems to enjoy playing for the team; he'd likely agree to an extension, as long as he feels it's valued as he values himself.
Andrew Whitworth (UFA): The Bengals are in a precarious situation. The making of their future offensive line will hinge on Zeitler's re-signing. If Cincinnati is unable to lock Zeitler up to a long-term deal, Whitworth would make sense as the team's fifth lineman as Christian Westerman continues to develop. If Zeitler re-signs, however, Whitworth could potentially be the odd man out. While Whit has expressed interest in moving to guard in the future if it lengthens his Bengals career, he'd likely need to agree to a deal as a backup, which doesn't seem like a move Whitworth would make (though it might not be completely out of the question).
Dre Kirkpatrick (UFA): The other first-round selection of the Bengals' 2012 Draft class, Kirkpatrick has been an interesting case in his tenure with in Cincinnati. He wasn't a full-time starter until his fourth NFL season, and once he became a starter he wasn't as effective as many had hoped. Despite what many fans say, that's to be expected. Most players don't show they're capable of starting until their second or third season as a starter. Cincinnati selected William Jackson III in the first round of the 2016 Draft which, to many fans, was an indicator that Kirkpatrick is out the door. That notion, however, is false. The Bengals would like to see Kirkpatrick progress in his development in 2016 and demonstrate that he's capable of becoming the team's long-term starter. If he's able to do so, Jackson will eventually replace Adam Jones on the opposite side of Kirkpatrick. Coming off a season which left more to be desired, Kirkpatrick's stock is lower than ever, which the Bengals will obviously try to use to their advantage. Hopefully, if they opt to re-sign Kirkpatrick before the 2016 season, they'll be able to work out a deal that will be mutually beneficial, as Kirkpatrick deserves starting money and the team wants to save money for future contracts.
Cedric Peerman (UFA) and Rex Burkhead (UFA): With Bernard's re-signing, the Bengals' predicament at running back gets interesting. Peerman has been a special teams ace during his time in Cincinnati, and he's still only 29-years-old. The Bengals will likely look to keep him on the team, even though he hasn't done much as a running back. Burkhead, once a sixth-round pick, hasn't done very much outside of special teams work during in his time on the Bengals. That being said, the team still seems to like him, as he beat out Terrell Watson and James Wilder Jr. for a roster spot in 2015. Burkhead doesn't have the attributes to be more than a complementary back, but that doesn't mean he's not valuable. If it weren't for Bernard, Burkhead would likely have a much bigger role among the Bengals' offense. If Burkhead isn't satisfied being the Bengals' third-string back, he could potentially opt for free agency and sign a contract elsewhere. If he's satisfied in Cincinnati, however, the Bengals should re-sign Burkhead. He's one of the more talented number three running backs in football.
Domata Peko (UFA): Peko is an interesting case, as the Bengals just selected the guy they hope will one day replace him in Andrew Billings. If Billings doesn't work out, Brandon Thompson and Pat Sims will also compete for snaps. Is there really room for Peko on the roster moving forward? He's been a veteran presence on the Bengals' defensive line, but at some point, Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap should be able to lead the position group. Peko's 2015 performance was an indicator that he's still a capable (average) starter, but, at 31, Peko might not have many years left. Ultimately, the Bengals' decision to re-sign Peko should be contingent upon Peko being open to coming back as a rotational player rather than as a starter.
Mike Nugent (UFA): The strangest case of all might be that of Nugent. The Bengals handle their kickers in a very unconventional way; they rarely challenge the incumbent and even more rarely make any changes within the position group. Nugent, Kevin Huber and Clark Harris have been the team's specialists for five straight seasons. The Bengals will definitely consider re-signing the kicker, as they have proven very resistant to change at the position. That being said, at some point, the team will need to get younger at the position.
Brandon Thompson (UFA): The defensive tackle has a lot to prove, as he'll likely begin the 2016 season on the Bengals' Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Once a third round Draft selection, Thompson has shown the potential to be good but has struggled to stay healthy. He'll likely have to prove he's worth a roster spot before he's re-signed to an extension, so the team will probably wait until the 2017 offseason before re-signing the defensive tackle.
Other 2017 free agents: Brandon LaFell (UFA), Margus Hunt (UFA), Eric Winston (UFA), Brandon Tate (UFA), Taylor Mays (UFA), Chris Lewis-Harris (Restricted Free Agent), Ryan Hewitt (RFA), Chykie Brown (UFA), T.J. Johnson (RFA), Keith Wenning(Exclusive Rights Free Agent), Marcus Lucas (ERFA), Bronson Hill (ERFA), John Peters (ERFA).