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Are Bengals keeping Adam Jones for contract leverage with Dre Kirkpatrick?

The Bengals are in the midst of possible upheaval with their starting cornerbacks, be it from free agency or off-the-field issues. Might there be a savvy background strategy we’re not talking about?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Because of their success and the structuring of certain contracts, the Cincinnati Bengals have faced some major free agency decisions in recent years. Whether it was safety and wide receiver positions last offseason, or cornerback and offensive line spots this year, the front office has had to make and will continue to make some tough decisions.

At cornerback, one such difficult conundrum resides in Adam Jones’ recent legal issue. After being arrested on January 3rd on a number of charges, he is facing a February 10th court date and his future with the Bengals is uncertain. Cincinnati is currently undecided on Jones’ future, with most thinking they are waiting for both the outcome of the charges, as well as mulling over what they currently have in the young crop of corners.

Jones’ legal run-in throws a wrench in the Bengals’ offseason plans. With youngsters like Josh Shaw, Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III and KeiVarae Russell still developing, they hoped they had a veteran leg to stand on in Jones, in the event that impending free agent Dre Kirkpatrick left in free agency. Now, with Jones facing the off chance of possible jail time, along with a suspension from the fickle NFL, Kirkpatrick has seemingly gained quite a bit of financial leverage with the Bengals—even if staying in Cincinnati is what he wants.

When you look at the first round duo of Dennard and Jackson, it’s possible that the Bengals use these two as starters as soon as 2017—after all, it plays into their philosophy of drafting the best player available and investing in the future. However, when looking at Marvin Lewis’ tendencies in the past 14 years, you know Cincinnati would love to keep at least one of the two among the veteran duo of Kirkpatrick and Jones.

When we’ve asked our loyal readers their stance on Jones and his future with the Bengals, the majority hoped he would be shown the door. Fan opinions on why the team has hung on to Jones (through this and so many other legal transgressions in his career) vary, ranging from the Brown family’s loyalty, to letting the situation properly play itself out before bringing out the guillotine.

However, if there are two things we know about the Brown family—one that is chock full of lawyers—it’s that they understand the law and know how to play hardball with negotiations. Kirkpatrick (along with Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth) has to be at the top the team’s priority list for their inward approach to free agency.

The contingent of Bengals fans who hoped to see Jones released by now have to be clinging only to the aforementioned possible excuses. However, the club may have an ulterior motive with their keeping of Jones through more trouble.

Even though releasing Jones would send a message to the locker room and to Bengals fans, the team has to think of the business side of football. And, in this case, the club can’t relinquish any leverage as they try to keep Kirkpatrick long-term. While the franchise tag is an option, they also have two quality offensive linemen as options to tag.

With cornerback and offensive tackle numbers for the 2017 projected franchise tag around the same number ($14.4 million), it makes sense that a long-term deal goes to Kirkpatrick, while a bridge-like deal goes to the now-perennial, 35-year-old Pro Bowl tackle Whitworth. Also possibly playing into the Bengals’ decision to keep Jones through this ugly scenario is a salary cap savings of around $600,000 (approximately $1.3 million hit before June 1st, approximately $700,000 after), though that just doesn’t seem like much money, by NFL standards, in an effort to avoid a public relations nightmare.

However, Jones’ current status as an employee of the Bengals’ organization might simply come down to the next month (or so) of free agency negotiations with the team and Kirkpatrick. As the Bengals obviously note the financial pendulum swinging toward Kirkpatrick’s camp, getting rid of Jones outright then forces the Bengals’ hand to bend to the will of a corner they want to keep on the roster in Kirkpatrick.

Couple that with the young and unproven options Cincinnati would be forced to start if both Jones and Kirkpatrick leave town, and you can see how the often-hard-nosed Brown family doesn’t want to have their hand forced.

While the situation with Jones might end up working out in the Bengals’ favor, it is currently complicating matters as they try to retain Kirkpatrick. There is little to substantiate this claim and it may very well end up being nothing more than a conspiracy theory, but it’s something to consider as the team continues to navigate through yet another tumultuous offseason.