When it comes to building a team in the NFL, cuts are an ugly but inevitable part of the business. NFL teams are currently allowed to have up to 90 players on their roster at any given time at this point in the offseason, but they are required to cut that number down to 53 by the end of the preseason. Interestingly, the Bengals only have 89 men on their roster right now, so it's likely they'll sign someone else before the preseason.
That said, there are bound to be at least a few surprise veteran players who get cut from the team in favor of up-and-coming young players. As of right now, here's a few guys who have been around for a while but could very well be on their way out before the season begins.
The Bengals took Hunt in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft almost entirely based on his potential. He had only started playing football during his freshman year of college, but at 6'8'' and 290 pounds, he was an absolute athletic freak of nature. Given the fact that the Bengals have a solid roster due to their ability to draft well, they decided to take a flier on this potential, despite a concerning lack of experience and familiarity with the game.
In the three years since he's been drafted, Hunt hasn't recorded a single start and has only appeared in 31 of 51 possible games. In that time, he has recorded 7 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 pass deflection. Those aren't exactly impressive stats for the Estonian behemoth, so you can bet that he's on the hot seat with the coaching staff. Are the Bengals willing to give him another year of development before expecting him to make on-field contributions on a regular basis? With younger guys like Ryan Brown, Will Clarke, and Dezmond Johnson all fighting for spots behind Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, as well as Marcus Hardison's ability to play both end and tackle, Hunt could be seeing himself off the roster if he doesn't step up in the preseason.
At the moment, the wide receiver position is an absolute cluster of new and rarely used players looking for their chance to make the roster next to A.J. Green, the only proven player among the unit. As things currently stand, the battle for the remaining five spots on the roster, comes down to Tyler Boyd, Brandon Tate, Brandon LaFell, Jake Kumerow, James Wright, Michael Bennett, Mario Alford, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Antwane Grant, and Alonzo Russell. If you don't know many of those names, it's because everyone mentioned after LaFell is a seventh round Draft pick, undrafted player or a rookie.
Given Boyd's status as the team's 2016 second-round draft pick, you can go ahead and pencil him in for a roster spot. Then,Tate, whose mere presence on the roster is pretty controversial among fans, somehow finds his way onto the roster every year. It probably has to do with his versatility as a kick/punt returner and the fact that he hasn't been injured at all since his rookie season with the Patriots. It's likely that Tate can earn a spot on the team due to his experience as well. With an optimistic outlook, you can also, throw in Kumerow who the coaching staff seems to love and 2016 Core, who was Drafted in the sixth round this year. If young players rise to the occasion, will the Bengals really want to keep a receiver who will be 30-years-old in November over young guys with a lot of potential like Wright and Alford, 2014 and 2015 seventh round picks, respectively.
While Shawn Williams and George Iloka are set to be the Bengals' starting safeties this season, the backup safety positions seem to be up for grabs right now. The Bengals reunited with Mays back in April after a failed stint with the Raiders. With only Derron Smith, Floyd Raven Sr, and Clayton Fejedelem to compete with for what is likely two open spots, it seems like his previous experience with the team should play to his advantage.
While the talented Smith is likely to make a push for one of the two spots, it shouldn't be hard for Mays to beat out Fejedelem and Raven who are both eligible for the practice squad. But, as we've mentioned before, don't underestimate Fejedelem's potential. The Bengals drafted him for a reason and, with a history of contributing well on special teams, there's every reason to believe that he could secure the final safety spot on the defense over Mays. The catch is, Mays is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. So, he won't count against the Bengals' 53-man roster during that time. So, if he is to be cut, it would more likely be come Week 5, when he'd need to either be placed on the roster, or cut from the team. If there happens to be an injury at the safety position early in the season, Mays could also come in and help add depth at that time. So, he'll be a player to watch this summer to see how fast he gels with the Bengals after a year away and whether he'd be worthy of a spot on the team once back from suspension. It's possible, though rather unlikely that the Bengals would cut Mays before his suspension begins.
If LaFell does end up making the final roster, it could be at the expense of the Tate. Though, most fans would be pretty happy if Tate was cut...
If Alford comes into his own this offseason, or another option at punt/kick returner surfaces other than the aging Adam Jones, who's needed more on defense, there could be no room left for the rarely-used receiver.
Tate has managed to survive multiple roster cuts when many thought there was no chance he would continue to stick around. But, that has always been because he was one of the only viable kick/punt returning options on the team. With a fairly concerning history of fumbles with the team (12 in five years), the Bengals could easily find a replacement and leave him on the outside looking in.