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Bengals should consider transition tag for Dre Kirkpatrick

The transition tag would allow the Bengals a chance to match any offer Kirkpatrick receives in free agency.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals may be coming off a losing season, but Dre Kirkpatrick has been part of plenty of wins in Cincinnati.

Having just finished his fifth NFL season, Kirkpatrick has slowly become one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks in a league that needs more of them. Even an above average cornerback can make upwards of $9 million annually, and that’s probably about what what Kirkpatrick’s next deal will pay him. That’s why re-signing Kirkpatrick could prove very challenging for the Bengals.

Even if his market turns out to be less than anticipated, Kirkpatrick should be set for life with the next deal he signs. The Bengals should do their best to make sure that, at the very least, they get a chance to match any offer he gets this offseason.

That’s why the transition tag is something the Bengals should strongly consider for Kirkpatrick. Similar to the franchise tag, the transition tag is a method of giving teams the chance to match any offer made for a free agent player by his former team. It doesn’t hinder a player from getting offers from other teams as much as the franchise tag does.

If a team uses a franchise tag on a player, that player gets a one-year contract with a salary that is the average of the top-five salaries for players at his same position, or a 20-percent raise over his current salary, whichever is greater.

If a team uses a transition tag, the player receives a one-year deal that is the average of the top-10 salaries of the prior season, or a 20-percent raise of that player’s previous salary, whichever is greater. The player can negotiate with other teams, but the original team has a first-refusal right to match within seven days any offer sheet given to the player. If the original team does not match the offer, they lose the player and receive no draft compensation.

That’s different from the non-exclusive franchise tender, used on unrestricted free agents, which means if a player signs with another club, the tag tendering team will receive two first-round draft choices as compensation.

The exclusive right tender means the player (also an unrestricted free agent) is not permitted to negotiate with any other team, and he gets paid the same as the franchise tag. The transition tag is a different and more fair scenario for players than the franchise tag.

A recent example is the Browns using the transition tag on star center Alex Mack before he signed an offer sheet with the Jaguars in 2014, which Cleveland matched. Had the Browns let Mack leave, they would have gotten nothing in return, which is why other teams were still pursuing him. That would not have been the case had they used the franchise tag.

That allowed Mack to test the market, get an offer from another team, and allow Cleveland to match it. That’s a scenario the Bengals should consider for Kirkpatrick. It would only cost the team around $12 million to do so if he ends up playing 2017 under that deal, whereas the franchise tag would pay him upwards of $14 million.

With corners at a premium, that’s a fair deal for both sides if he ends up playing under that, though it’s more likely another team would at least offer him a long-term deal, which the Bengals could then choose to match or let him walk away, receiving nothing in return.

This would ensure the Bengals don’t end up with a situation where Kirkpatrick is coaxed into signing a deal on the spot as a normal free agent and not giving the Bengals a chance to match it. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened, but the transition tag would prevent the Bengals from being unable to put up a fight for Kirkpatrick in the end.