After the announcements came of the Cincinnati Bengals losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, finally, there was some good news when Bengals’ 2012 first round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick announced his return to the team via Twitter.
Cincy I'm coming home 5 more years— Dre Kirkpatrick (@DreKirkSWAG) March 9, 2017
On Friday, the Bengals officially announced the news of Kirkpatrick’s return, on a five-year, $52 million deal.
“It’s a very exciting day for us, for him,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of Kirkpatrick re-signing with the Bengals. “We’re really pleased to be able to have Dre be back here, continue his career here and hopefully at one point finish his career here in Cincinnati. But finishing it with a couple championships is what he’d prefer. He’s been a great, young talent for us. He’s worked his tail off year in and year out to eventually rise to this level. Now there’s a chance to really expand himself and become one of the young leaders on the football team.”
While in this past there was a time when Bengals players wanted to leave Cincinnati, both Kirkpatrick and Lewis made it clear that the cornerback wanted to remain in Cincinnati.
“Dre wanted to be here. He wanted to get it done,” Lewis said of the new deal. “He showed patience in getting the contract finished. He had some other opportunities, and he thought this was the best way for him to continue his career and continue with his teammates and move forward.”
Kirkpatrick said playing the waiting game and ignoring the noise of free agency was hard, but, he worked out, stayed close to his family and now, he's happy with the outcome. He should be as he’s now among the NFL’s 15 highest paid cornerbacks.
“I have family here. This is home. I’m old school,” Kirkpatrick said of why he wanted to remain in Cincinnati. “I’m like my dad: once I’m accustomed to something, I don’t really like changes. But for the most part, it’s all about building. There’s a lot of great football out there for this team. I didn’t want to run, I didn’t want to shy away because of a certain number, or anything like that. It was just all about my passion and my love for this team, and my passion and my love for my coach.”
Kirkpatrick also has high hopes for his next five years in Cincinnati, and that includes building a legacy for himself.
“I want to build a legacy,” he said. “Last year, I felt like I started striving a little bit toward building my own legacy. Why not finish it where I started?”
And if Pittsburgh Steelers fans ever thought Kirkpatrick was considering coming to Pittsburgh, it doesn’t really sound like he had that in mind.
“I always go back to Pittsburgh. I always go back to that Pittsburgh game (2015 season playoff loss to Pittsburgh), and how that ended up that game,” Kirkpatrick recollected. “I just want to win for Coach (Lewis). I want to give him his win. Like I said, there’s still a lot of things we’ve got to put together, but we’re definitely close.”
When Kirkpatrick got to Cincinnati back in 2011, he was buried on the depth chart behind other impressive cornerbacks (Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones) and sat on the bench for nearly all of his first three years, waiting for his chance to shine. When asked if there was one person who he wants to be like during the next five years, Kirkpatrick’s answer was clear.
“The one person that said something to me -- and I have nothing but respect for him, because it was man to man -- was Terence Newman,” he said. “Going into my second, third year, I was a little frustrated. I felt like I wanted to play, I wanted to be starting. He politely walked over to me and was like, ‘Hey, it’s not my job to give it to you, it’s your job to take it.’ As a man, I could respect that. From then on, I had nothing but the utmost respect for that guy.”
Newman is a good person to want to be like. At 38-years-old, he's defying aging and still playing cornerback at a very high level in the NFL. A free agent this year, Pro Football Focus ranked Newman as the No. 9 cornerback in the league in 2016.
But above all else, Kirkpatrick wanted to remain with the Bengals and continue working toward the team’s ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.
“It was a nightmare thinking I was going to leave,” Kirkpatrick said of the free agency process. “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to have to go pick up a new house, new cars and all that stuff. A new city. No. I’d rather just stay here with my little dog, my girlfriend, and bother coach every blue moon when I see him headed to work.”
That last part he said jokingly, but you could just picture Kirkpatrick nagging Lewis, in a loving way, of course.
“I’ve been here five years. I’ve seen guys go, I’ve seen guys come. But one thing is, we keep the core guys. For the most part, it’s been the same team,” Kirkpatrick said. “Whit’s been here my whole career. Zeitler’s been here my whole career. We don’t even have to flinch to even think about moving on. Those guys, they just chose to go another path. I just know that this, the Bengals, is all I’m representing right now.”