clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals free agency 2017: Breaking down the franchise tag candidates

Several Bengals are worthy of the franchise tag this year, but only one of them makes real sense to use it on.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are facing some big changes this offseason, most of which involve free agency.

With Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth and Dre Kirkpatrick all set to hit the open market in March, the Bengals are undoubtedly working to re-sign many of their key players before the start of free agency.

That includes a big decision on whether or not to use the franchise tag on any of those three guys. It’s unlikely that Whitworth will get the tag, though I do think the Bengals will re-sign him to a one or two-year deal, paying him around $9 million per year.

But the franchise tag for offensive lineman would pay him around $14 million. That’s also what Zeitler stands to make if the Bengals tag him. Even though he plays guard, the franchise tag pays the same for all offensive lineman.

While Zeitler has certainly earned a big payday, it’s hard to see the Bengals paying him $14+ million in one season. Then again, the tag could be used as more of an extension to get a deal done between now and the middle of July, which is when the deadline to sign tagged players to long-term deal takes place.

I could see a scenario where the Bengals tag Zeitler and later sign him to a long-term deal, though I think it’s far more likely they bypass the tag for him.

That leaves Kirkpatrick as the top candidate for the tag this offseason. He plays a far more premium position than Zeitler, even if it’s not quite the level that Zeitler plays. Kirkpatrick has certainly earned a big payday, and the tag would ensure he not only gets that, but also gives the Bengals more time to re-sign him if they can’t get a deal done between now and March 1st, the deadline to tag players.

I actually think Kirkpatrick getting tagged or re-signed by that deadline becomes a done deal if Adam Jones is cut this offseason following his arrest, not to mention a subpar 2016 season in general.

Cutting Jones would save the Bengals around $13 million in cap space over the next two years, but it would also leave them with only Josh Shaw, Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson and Keivarae Russell as their top corners next year, if Kirkpatrick isn’t re-signed.

That’s not happening, so if Jones gets cut, expect Kirkpatrick to be tagged or re-signed by March 1st. That would pay him around $14 million next season, though both sides would work hard to get a long-term deal done.

And Kirkpatrick can’t get too upset about being tagged and potentially playing next year under a one-year deal. He just made $7.5 million last year under the fifth-year option of his rookie contract.

He wasn’t worth anything close to that after his first four years, so he got a bit of a break there, not to mention the tag would ensure he makes around $21 million over a two-year span. That’s not quite the long-term deal he wants, but it’s still a great payday and more than fair based on his overall career, not just how he performed in 2016.

Then if Kirkpatrick wants to sign elsewhere in 2018, he still give the Bengals another year to develop Dennard, Jackson and other young corners to step up and overcome his potential loss. All of this is why tagging Kirkpatrick may end up being one of the easier tag decisions the Bengals have faced.

Don’t expect the tag to be used on anyone other than Kirkpatrick, and that’s only if Jones is cut, though both cutting Jones and tagging Kirkpatrick are likely things the team will try to avoid, while getting back the guys they want on the roster next season.