The Bengals’ biggest move of the offseason thus far was getting Dre Kirkpatrick re-signed.
After five up-and-down years in Cincinnati, Kirkpatrick was rewarded with a contract that pays him like an elite NFL corner. It wound up being a five-year deal that pays him $10.5 million annually, and he’s now the 11th-highest paid cornerback in football.
ESPN doesn’t think that’s a good thing. In their assessment of the most underrated and overrated signings of free agency, they believe the deal Kirkpatrick got made him the most overrated signing thus far when taking into consideration all NFL free agency signings.
1. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Contract: Five years, $52.5 million with $12 million guaranteed
Kirkpatrick had the best season of his career in 2016, earning a 74.7 PFF grade and ranking 53rd in the league among corners. He allowed 59 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught and was flagged nine times. Cincinnati had a flood of talent headed to the open market -- it lost offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, among others -- and the Bengals had to keep Kirkpatrick at a high cost that doesn't match his above-average play. Only $12 million of his deal is guaranteed, and the team can get out of it without too much pain after two seasons if he doesn't perform, but it's too much money when there were better free-agent corners available. When you consider the players the Bengals chose to let walk as they prioritized Kirkpatrick, this deal looks like one of the worst.
Kirkpatrick is coming off his best season as a pro and just his second year as a full-time starter. Originally drafted out of Alabama with the 17th-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kirkpatrick endured several bad seasons in which he was either on the bench or a liability as a part-time player.
But Kirkpatrick would improve as his rookie contract wore on, and he entered 2016 poised to take an even bigger step forward with Leon Hall gone. In 15 games played last season, Kirkpatrick recorded 46 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He finished as Pro Football Focus’ 53rd-ranked corner out of 112 eligible players, though that doesn’t speak to how well he played over the second half of last year, following a slow start.
Kirkpatrick’s stats don’t suggest he should be paid like a top-dollar corner, but the NFL doesn’t have enough decent corners to go around, so even above-average corners come at a premium. That’s why he’s getting paid so much, especially with the NFL salary cap having increased by more than $10 million this year.
That’s why Kirkpatrick signed such a big deal that has him being paid like a top-10 corner, but that shouldn’t last as other top corners sign big contracts over the next five years.
It’s just like when the Bengals gave Andy Dalton his big extension in 2014. He instantly became one of the higher-paid quarterbacks in football, but just three years later, he’s now the 19th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. When that deal was signed, many fans and analysts were outraged, but now, it looks like one of the best deals the Bengals ever inked.
So while Kirkpatrick’s deal looks bloated now, as long as he plays like the great corner we saw for much of last season, it will look better as the years go on.