The Cincinnati Bengals are in danger of losing a few key contributors in free agency. Andrew Whitworth, Domata Peko, Brandon LaFell, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Eric Winston, and Rex Burkhead all have starting experience, but it is unlikely the Bengals will be able to return them all, especially considering guys like Zeitler and Kirkpatrick will be going from rookie contracts to sizeable veteran contracts this year. Not every member of that group will be as high of a priority to re-sign as the others, but there are a few who could be considered the team’s top priority before players are allowed to sign with new teams, beginning this Thursday, March 9 at 4 p.m. EST. The legal tampering period begins today at 12:00 p.m. ET, so get ready for the rumor mill to heat up, and hopefully, for the Bengals to get started re-signing their own best free agents.
One of the top leaders on-the-field and in the locker room, even at 35 years old, Whitworth is still playing at a Pro Bowl level and was one of the Bengals’ only bright spots on the offensive line in 2016. He quintessentially defines what it means to be a professional football player and has given his entire career to the Bengals. It would be a downright shame if the Bengals allowed him to move on to another team in the twilight of his career.
The only other consistent bright spot for the Bengals’ offensive line in 2016, losing Zeitler would be devastating. Right now, Whitworth is the better player. But, long-term, the Bengals would be better off keeping Zeitler around if it came down to a decision between the two. Due to such a large amount of offensive guard talent in the NFL, Zeitler’s efforts have yet to be rewarded with a Pro Bowl. But, he has played at a high level every season he has been with the team and improved annually.
Although he isn’t that game-changing force of a cornerback that you hope to have starting for your team, Kirkpatrick provides stability for the Bengals’ defensive backfield. Given Adam Jones’ on- and off-the-field issues as well as his age, Darqueze Dennard’s lack of development, and William Jackson III’s experience, it would be very tough for the Bengals to bounce back from losing their only reliable starting cornerback.
As a long-time reserve running back, Burkhead is easily the wild-card option of this group. But, with the Bengals’ running back position in such a state of disarray and Burkhead’s emergence as a very capable starting running back at the end of the 2016 season, he might be a much higher priority than an outside observer would think at first glance. As Jeremy Hill’s struggles haven’t gone away for the past two seasons, the Bengals need a reliable running back to pair with Giovani Bernard. It’s possible that can’t be Burkhead because of money, but then again, maybe the Bengals should pay him what he deserves to keep him around.
What do you think, Bengals fans? Let us know who you think the Bengals should re-sign first as free agency looms!