Last Sunday, Margus Hunt played the final game of his rookie contract for the Bengals against the Baltimore Ravens. It was the kind of game that a player in his position doesn’t want to see - a completely quiet game with no stats recorded, leaving a poor final impression on his campaign for a new contract with the team. However, 2016 was still his best year as a pro so there might be enough reason to return him in 2017 for the sake of depth, depending on how the coaches feel about his work ethic and receptiveness to their system.
There are plenty of reasons why the Bengals would want to move on from their 2013 second round pick. However, there are also plenty of reasons why the Bengals would want to bring him back in 2017. Both sides can lay claim to sound arguments.
46 games played: 14 tackles, 16 assisted tackles, 3 passes deflected, 2 sacks
2016 season stats
15 games played: 7 tackles, 7 assisted tackles, 2 passes deflected
Case against re-signing Hunt
Hunt’s production during the course of four seasons has been abysmal. The Bengals knew that he was going to be a project player when they drafted him, but at some point he needs to display the ability to break through. Through his first three seasons, he never played more than 13 games and only recorded seven tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection in the process prior to this season.
Sure he improved in 2016, playing 15 games, but fellow backup Wallace Gilberry’s stats through only five games were still superior to Hunt’s. He did have two blocked extra points and a blocked field goal this season, which was nice to see from the big guy from Estonia. Sure, there might be a chance that he will unlock his potential at some point down the line, but is it really worth waiting all that time for him to finally break out near the end of his career? Doubtful.
Argument for re-signing Hunt
Personally, I get the frustration with Hunt. Seven tackles, two pass deflections, and a handful of blocked kicks in 2016 is a nice improvement over his past production, but it’s still not anywhere near where it needs to be for a four year veteran in the NFL.
Many were intrigued by Hunt’s potential when the Bengals selected him with the 53rd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He was an athletic freak and a 6’8, 277 pound giant who didn’t have much experience playing football, but was productive throughout his college career at SMU. Unfortunately, he has yet to meet those expectations in the NFL.
That said, his ability to block kicks and his continued improvement as a traditional defensive end, in addition to his familiarity with Paul Guenther’s defensive system, all display his value to the team. Therefore, I think it is, at the very least, worth it to re-sign Hunt if he is willing to come back on a year-to-year basis at a very low salary. It is unlikely he will receive much interest with any other team given his production with the Bengals over four years.
Once the Bengals have him re-signed to a very low-risk contract, they can evaluate how to handle the situation from there. There are a number of solid defensive ends in the upcoming draft, but the Bengals might prefer to look at a player who can replace Michael Johnson in the starting lineup. Johnson will take up $5.1 million in cap space this upcoming season, but his production hasn’t come close to living up to his salary. The Bengals will likely be forced to make some tough decisions on Johnson’s future, so Hunt’s experience can help act as a buffer for any fallout associated with that situation.
That said, the Bengals should still keep an eye open for young defensive end talent in the draft. If the Bengals do, in fact, sign Hunt to a low-risk contract extension, there will be no problem with fostering competition in camp to push him to improve. If he is outshined by his competition, the Bengals can release him without much worry.
That said, if there is any chance that re-signing Hunt might impede the Bengals’ chances of re-signing key free agents like Kevin Zeitler, Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon LaFell, or Rex Burkhead, there isn’t any question that the Bengals should let him walk. The low-risk contract I described earlier shouldn’t prevent any of the Bengals’ other contracts.
Priority to re-sign: Low