It took all of one day into the offseason for the Bengals’ to have a wrench thrown their way.
With news of cornerback Adam Jones’ early morning arrest, whatever Cincinnati was planning to do this offseason should, at the very least, be put on hold, if not completely changed.
Prior to Jones’ arrest, the Bengals were very likely keeping their veteran cornerback going into next season, despite seeing a drop off in Jones’ play this season. That would have left the Bengals to pay Jones his $7.6 million salary for 2017. He is also owed $6.6 million in 2018 (if he’s on the roster at that point), even though Jones is now 33 and clearly on the decline after a career year in 2015 led to his three year contract extension. That final year of his deal in 2018 includes a club option to pick up, or do away with.
And with Jones making so much, it was unclear if the team would be re-signing their other starting corner, Dre Kirkpatrick, who is set to hit free agency this offseason. Kirkpatrick would easily be one of the best cornerbacks hitting the open market in March, and some team would pay more than the Bengals are likely willing to offer, especially with Jones under contract...
But now, Jones should be in danger of being released following his arrest. If it turns out even one of the four charges made against him are accurate and that he is guilty, he should be cut. That’s simply not the look you want for a guy you’re paying like a franchise player, not to mention one of the leaders of your defense and a player who was elected by his teammates to be a team captain in 2016.
Jones wasn’t exactly playing like a corner worthy of his contract either. He finished 2016 ranked 45th among Pro Football Focus’ top 119 cornerbacks. He turns 34 when the 2017 season begins, so it’s hard to see him magically getting better, making him a cap casualty candidate even without his arrest.
And if Jones is cut, the Bengals would save $6 million in 2017. Also, with 2018 being a club option, Cincinnati would have more than another $6 million at their disposal that year by not having Jones under contract.
In other words, the Bengals would save about $13 million over the next two seasons by cutting Jones. The Bengals could then take that and have more money to toss at Kirkpatrick, who they should not allow to leave this offseason. And for what it’s worth, Kirkpatrick does not want to leave.
If anything, the Bengals should cut Jones and if they can’t get a new deal done with Kirkpatrick, place the franchise tag on him, which will cost in the neighborhood of $14 million. Though costly, it would make more sense at this point to cut Jones and tag Kirkpatrick than to keep Jones and risk letting Kirkpatrick hit the open market.
There’s also two additional first-round cornerbacks the Bengals have on the roster who need to play more next year. William Jackson III was someone the coaches were really high on last offseason, enough that it looked like he may play a lot as a rookie before tearing his pectoral muscle and missing the entire season.
There’s also Darqueze Dennard, who is entering his fourth NFL season in 2017, but has rarely seen the field at his natural position of boundary cornerback. The Bengals have tried making him a slot corner, but he just doesn’t fit there. He needs to play on the boundary, where he’s played well far more often than in the slot, but he won’t get those chances if both Kirkpatrick and Jones are back next year.
The same is true with Jackson, who is more suited for the boundary. That means if the Bengals bring back Jones and Kirkpatrick, two of their recent first-round picks aren’t getting used. There’s also Josh Shaw on the roster who played mostly in the slot this year and had a nice second season in the NFL.
Making gaffes like keeping Jones after his arrest (if found guilty) or allowing Kirkpatrick to walk in free agency, is how you can quickly go from a playoff team to a 6-9-1 debacle. The Bengals appear to have made a mistake in re-signing Jones last offseason. They can’t afford to make a similar mistake this offseason. If Jones is guilty, the Bengals should cut him, re-sign Kirkpatrick and proceed forward.