The Bengals' decision to sign Dre Kirkpatrick's fifth-year option came with mixed reviews, but there's no questioning whether it was the right move to make. The 26-year-old corner has been inconsistent throughout his career, which has unfortunately been marred with injuries, but when he's been good, he's been spectacular. The glimpses of potential Kirkpatrick has shown in his career forced his team's hand; the Bengals cannot afford to let a player who has the potential to be a quality starter walk in free agency.
Kirkpatrick's 2016 services come with a hefty price tag; the corner will earn over $7.5 million in base salary. It would take a dominant year, such as Adam Jones' 2015 season, for Kirkpatrick to live up to his 2016 salary, which likely won't happen. He's most likely going to be overpaid. However, this is still the right move for the Bengals to have made. Granted, they had to choose to exercise his fifth year option before his lackluster first year as a starter in 2016.
2016 Draft Strategy
The Bengals' selection of William Jackson III certainly complicates things, but ultimately, signing Kirkpatrick's option allowed the team to have flexibility in the 2016 Draft. The Bengals eventually decided to take an additional corner in the first round, but having the all-around depth to select one of the best players available, rather than reaching for a need at corner (sound familiar?) Makee Kirkpatrick's 2016 salary worthwhile, especially considering the Bengals have the cap space to overpay him for one year.
Starting Potential and Scheme Fit
Many Bengals fans are cynical when it comes to Kirkpatrick, but the fact of the matter is that he's more than capable of starting for Cincinnati for several reasons. As he's shown in three or four games--most memorably the Broncos game in 2014--Kirkpatrick can be a ball hawk who is more than capable of making plays on the ball and shadowing opposing pass-catchers.
Another aspect of the Bengals' predicament at the corner position, which many fans seem to disregard, is that the team simply doesn't need outstanding corner play. The Bengals heavily rely on their front seven to pressure opposing quarterbacks and lock down the run game, which allows the secondary to play aggressively. Cincinnati's Cover 2 scheme doesn't value corners nearly as highly as it values players at other positions, such as defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker. The corner's lack of importance in the Cover 2 is exactly why the Panthers, who run a scheme nearly identical to that of the Bengals, eventually opted to rescind Josh Norman's franchise tag and let him sign with the Redskins.
Kirkpatrick isn't the most important player on the Bengals defense, but the team ultimately wants to re-sign him for the right price. Unlike the Panthers, the Bengals rarely make moves in free agency, which means it's important to retain guys like Kirkpatrick, who likely won't be ultra-expensive on the open market.
Negotiating a Fair Price
The Bengals want to re-sign Kirkpatrick to a long-term deal. If they weren't sure of this, the team certainly wouldn't be paying him over $7.5 million in 2016. To be fair to both Kirkpatrick and the Bengals, the two sides need to negotiate a fair deal. Kirkpatrick's value, however, is hard to assess. He has come up big when his team has needed it most, but he has also been a liability at times.
That being said, Kirkpatrick seems as good a guy as they come. He was a team player, playing through a shoulder injury in 2015, which surely contributed to some missed tackles but also ensured the team had the positional depth it needed during one of the best years in franchise history. Kirkpatrick played through an injury as several members of the secondary, including Jones, Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard and George Iloka all missed time. He's also very wise and humble when it comes to money, which makes him an even more likable a guy.
Kirkpatrick has only been a starter for one year, and he was only healthy in three of his 2015 starts. There's still a good chance he finally capitalizes on his potential and becomes the player the Bengals had been hoping to see when they selected him in the first round of the 2012 Draft.