Among the Bengals’ biggest priorities right now is getting Kevin Zeitler resigned.
The stud guard has been among the league’s best at his position ever since he was drafted in the first round out of Wisconsin in 2011. He’s been a key part of the Bengals’ offense ever since, but keeping him in the fold for the foreseeable future won’t be easy.
According to Spotrac’s contract projections, Zeitler’s next deal figures to pay him around $11 million annually, a very high mark for any guard. If that’s the kind of market he gets in free agency, we should probably consider him gone.
While they Bengals value guards, they haven’t shown they do so enough to pay one that kind of money. But other teams will jump at the chance to sign Zeitler. If Zeitler does end up leaving, there will be several other quality free agent guards to pick from if Cincinnati looks to sign another one. Though, Zeitler is the cream of the crop and the best guard set to hit the open market.
As far as unrestricted free agents, T.J. Lang of the Packers figures to be the best one after Zeitler. Lang has played at an All-Pro level for much of his career, but the 29-year-old (turns 30 in Sept.) has missed four games due to injury over the past two seasons.
At his age, many teams will worry about the injury concern, as he hits 30 next season. He can probably be signed for far less than what it will take to sign Zeitler, who doesn’t turn 27 until March 8.
Still, Spotrac projects Lang to sign a deal paying him around $8 million annually, something the Bengals won’t even consider for an outside free agent.
Andrew Norwell of the Panthers would be one of, if not the top free agent guard to hit the market, but he’s a restricted free agent who Carolina likely won’t let slip away.
The market for Lions guard Larry Warford is somewhat hard to project. One of the league’s best guards when healthy, Warford has endured an injury-riddled career. While he’s only missed seven games over the last three seasons, injuries have greatly hindered his play at times. Regardless, Warford should draw offers paying him in the neighborhood of what Lang and Zeitler will make, likely too much for the Bengals to consider.
If the Bengals want to sign a cheap veteran, guys like John Jerry (31) and Jahri Evans (34) are set to hit the open mark. Their age will make them more affordable to teams like Cincinnati, not to mention they may wait until the summer to sign new deals. That would keep them from hurting any potential compensatory picks the Bengals could net for 2018.
An under-the-radar guy to watch is Jacksonville’s Patrick Omameh. He was quietly having a good season with the Jaguars before a season-ending foot injury limited him to just 10 games.
Here’s a look at the notable free agent guards hitting the market this offseason:
- T.J. Lang, Packers. Age: 29.
- Andrew Norwell (Restricted), Panthers. Age: 25.
- Larry Warford, Lions. Age: 26.
- Ronald Leary, Cowboys. Age: 28.
- Evan Mathis, Cardinals. Age: 35.
- Patrick Omameh, Jaguars. Age: 26.
- Jahri Evans, Saints. Age: 34.
- John Urschel, Ravens. Age: 26.
- John Jerry, Giants. Age: 31.
- Luke Joeckel, Jaguars. Age: 25.
- Chance Warmack, Titans. Age: 25.
- Tim Lelito, Saints. Age: 28.
- Jonathan Cooper, Cowboys. Age: 27.
- Ben Ijalana, Jets. Age: 28.
- Don Barclay, Packers. Age: 28.
- Oday Aboushi, Texans. Age: 26.
- Chris Scott, Panthers. Age: 30.
- Hugh Thornton, Colts. Age: 26.
- Earl Watford, Cardinals. Age: 29.
- Mike Person, Chiefs. Age: 29.
- Jamil Douglas, G, Dolphins. Age: 25.