With the start of NFL free agency approaching fast, Kevin Zeitler continues to look like he’ll end up testing the open market.
The Bengals are expected to be content with letting their stud guard see what other teams have to offer. That seems to be what Zeitler is hoping for based on his interview with Sirius XM Radio.
“I love Cincinnati, but I'm open to anything,” Zeitler said. “It's an exciting time.”
These are the first public comments of any kind Zeitler has made this offseason about his impending free agency. The Bengals will undoubtedly make a run at keeping him, though it’s hard to see him settling for anything less than the kind of massive deal that makes him one of, if not the highest-paid guard in football. I’d expect him to get something in the neighborhood of the 5-year, $58-million contract that the Raiders gave Kelechi Osemele during the 2016 offseason.
Zeitler is clearly among top free agents this year after being a borderline Pro Bowl guard for much of his career, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue at his current level of play for many more years to come.
Zeitler also continues to be ranked highly in various free agency rankings, including No. 14 in NFL.com’s Top 101 Free Agents of 2017.
14) Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals guard: A nasty-tempered blocker who wins with strength, Zeitler is a great fit for a power-based ground attack.
You can pretty much rank Zeitler No. 9 on that list as the five of the guys ranked ahead of him have already been franchise tagged, and there could be more players tagged before Wednesday’s deadline.
But Zeitler is not expected to be part of tag game, though he’s one of the league's best guards. The tag would pay him like one of the top five offensive linemen, which is a much higher mark than if only guards were involved. Even the best guards will never have as much importance as best offensive tackles, and the Bengals have their own tackle the club is working to re-sign in Andrew Whitworth.
That alone will take a lot of money to get done this year, which is part of why re-signing both Whitworth and Zeitler is not expected. It doesn’t help that there’s several guard-needy teams this offseason with plenty of cash to burn, such as the Jaguars.
Don’t sleep on the Broncos either, though they appear to be targeting Whitworth more than Zeitler. The Cardinals are another team to watch for since they have a big need there, though they probably don’t have enough cap space right now.
Free agency officially kicks off on March 9 at 4:00 p.m. ET., with the legal tampering period beginning 48 hours earlier.