There is so much potential for change this offseason, and so many Bengals players will likely be on new teams when their contracts expire. These are the four most important free agents going into the offseason.
Defensive end Chris Smith
The Bengals made it a point of emphasis to upgrade their pass rush this offseason, and their first step towards that was trading for Smith from the Jaguars. The Bengals sent a conditional 2018 pick to Jacksonville before the draft this offseason. It seemed like he was going to be fairly involved given the depth behind Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson.
Then The Bengals drafted Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson, and all the sudden Smith wasn’t even assured a spot on the roster. He quickly changed that by dominating in the preseason. He quickly made it clear that Will Clarke and Wallace Gilberry weren’t going to keep him from making this team.
Now looking at Smith’s stats, nothing jumps out at you. He has three sacks on the season and a forced fumble. His value, however, comes from the fact that he is doing this while not being on the field that much. Plus he is the perfect replacement for when Johnson moves on.
Johnson has one-year left on his contract after this season, but the Bengals could save $5 million in cap space by releasing him this offseason. This would lead to either Smith or WIllis being the starter opposite Dunlap, and the Bengals would still have the ability to rotate in who ever doesn’t start and Lawson. It would still be a very formidable pass rush.
Losing Smith ruins all that. The Bengals would likely hang onto Johnson for next season, but the year after the Bengals would be starting Willis and only have Lawson as an extra pass rusher. The Bengals could always try to draft another guy, but why not lock Smith up this offseason before his value sores through the roof?
Tight end Tyler Eifert
Eifert’s history with the Bengals is well documented. When he is healthy he is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. The only problem is he can’t seems to stay healthy. He is taking this season and offseason to rectify that by getting multiple surgeries done to hopefully get him back up to 100 percent.
There is a scenario where I think the Bengals bring him back, and that is offering him a one-year deal to essentially prove whether he can really stay healthy. Maybe it is a long term deal that has an out for the team to cut him after the first season. Either way it seems like a player of Eifert’s caliber will be looking for a huge long term deal, but I have a hard time seeing anyone taking that risk at this point. He will probably be forced to take a team friendly deal for at least a season. Whether that is with the Bengals or someone else is probably up to him.
Punter Kevin Huber
Huber is one of the better punters in the league. It makes sense just to re-sign him and keep a good thing going. Now He isn’t the best punter in the league by any means, but he is good enough that it would be hard to replace him. It really does show you the caliber of players who have contracts ending this offseason for the Bengals that the third most important is the punter.
Linebacker Kevin Minter
Minter quite honestly has been disappointing, but it isn’t all his fault. The team has really only used him in situations where they have three linebackers on the field, which is rare in today’s NFL. It looked like Minter was going to be far more involved in the offense when the team signed him to a one-year deal this offseason, but we just haven’t seen it.
He has also had his own struggles while he has been on the field. He failed to really show his worth against the Bears this past week with all the injuries to linebackers. Still, his value comes from the fact that he is still a better option than Vincent Rey at this point.
Rey does have another year on his contract though. He shouldn’t be on this roster next year though. Either Minter should take Rey’s spot on this roster or the team should redo the entire unit, which may be the best option.