The Cincinnati Bengals faced a dilemma in free agency this year. It wasn’t as serious as the infamous problems the team faced in the 2016 offseason, but the front office still needed to make some tough choices between a few important starters. That included Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, and Dre Kirkpatrick. Ultimately, the only one of their three biggest free agents who the team was able to retain was Kirkpatrick, who re-signed with the team on a $52.5 million deal over five years. So far, there have been a number of mixed reactions to the move, such as this negative opinion from Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, taking free agency as a whole into the equation.
The Skinny: The Bengals re-signed three players, corner Dre Kirkpatrick, receiver Brandon LaFell and backup tackle Eric Winston. But they suffered two big hits on their offensive line, losing left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the Rams and guard Kevin Zeitler to the Browns. That will sting. They needed to keep at least one of them.
Grade: C-. Losing the two starting offensive lineman will hurt them in a big way.
It is extremely unfortunate that the Bengals were unable to re-sign both Whitworth and Zeitler. With all of the problems on offensive line in 2016, letting your only two consistently good lineman walk is an extremely questionable strategy. To be fair, the money that Zeitler received from the Browns was simply too much for the Bengals to compete with, given their self-imposed budget.
However, in theory, the Bengals could have opted to not re-sign Kirkpatrick in favor of throwing more money at Whitworth. But, either way the Bengals would be losing a lot of stability. Kirkpatrick is expected to be around much longer than Whitworth, so he won out. Still, the prevailing opinion around re-signing Kirkpatrick, as expressed by Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, seems to be that it was a very stats-quo move for a Bengals organization that needs to focus on substantial improvement in every area.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick re-signs with Cincinnati Bengals
Actual: Five years, $52.5 million
PFF play-earned contract: Five years, $25.6 million, $11.2 million guaranteed
The best season Dre Kirkpatrick has had in the NFL was 2016, and he was average at best. Of the quality players the Bengals had hitting the open market, making Kirkpatrick the one they had to keep hold of was curious. For his career, he has allowed 58.6 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught and has been penalized 29 times, 25 of which have come in his two seasons as a starter.
Pro Football Focus projected Kirkpatrick to be worth less than half of what the Bengals actually gave him. That is pretty harsh for a cornerback who has developed into a reliable starter with big play potential, however rare those big plays might be. Personally, I think the move to re-sign Kirkpatrick was a solid one that most outside analysts don’t quite understand. When you get down to the nuts and bolts of the situation, it is easy to see the side of Bill Barnwell of ESPN, who expressed a more optimistic view of the situation.
Fourth-round pick Josh Shaw was impressive as the slot corner last season, but the Bengals will be happy to bring back some stability in Kirkpatrick. He hasn't been the model of consistency as a pro, either, but Kirkpatrick has drawn a lot of tough matchups over the past two seasons and was likely drawing interest in the $10 million per year range on the open market. There's no word yet on guaranteed money, but the five-year, $52.5 million deal Kirkpatrick signed to stick around in Cincinnati is hardly out of line with what other corners of Kirkpatrick's caliber were likely to receive.
Yes, it is true that Kirkpatrick is not the most exciting cornerback in the NFL. He isn’t even close and the Bengals could probably do better at the starting spot. But, given the plethora of on- and off-the-field issues from Adam Jones, the lack of development from Darqueze Dennard, the unknown status of William Jackson III, and the unproven status of KeiVarae Russell, the only other cornerback the Bengals don’t have major question marks with is Shaw. Kirkpatrick’s value to the Bengals shoots through the roof when you take all of those issues, his experience, and familiarity with the team into the equation.
Ultimately, the Bengals’ current rebuilding status makes experienced veterans like Kirkpatrick extremely valuable. In all likelihood, his value to the Bengals is significantly greater than it would have been to any other team. The Bengals don’t want to accept the status-quo in all things they do, but they need to keep some veteran leadership and experience around, especially after losing Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams.