While the Bengals aren’t known as big movers-and-shakers when it comes to free agency, they do dole out the dough for some of their prized internal players. After a 2016 offseason seeing a number of valuable players leave in free agency, Cincinnati once again faces the prospect of losing other valuable starters to other teams.
One such player is starting right guard Kevin Zeitler. Though many fans view him as the player who should be the highest priority, in terms of a new contract, rumors have the team being a bit lukewarm on spending big money on a position that hasn’t been viewed as a premium one by the club.
Now, as the annual frenzy that is free agency is upon us, rumors about the star guard have been surfacing. Per Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear to be eager to make a strong push to sign Zeitler.
Lots of talk that G Kevin Zeitler ends up in Jacksonville. Still a lot of talk about other clubs, but #Jaguars come up again and again.— Jason Cole (@JasonColeBR) March 8, 2017
Along with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Zeitler is one of the highest-profile Bengals players to hit the free agent market. If Cole’s report is accurate, it makes for an interesting scenario, given the high amounts of salary cap space that both the Jaguars and Bengals have at their disposal this year.
Per Spotrac, the Bengals have the 10th-highest amount of cap space at just over $41 million, while the Jaguars have the third-most at a touch under $74 million. While Jacksonville has quite a bit more financial space to play with over Cincinnati, the Bengals have ample room to re-sign Zeitler if they so choose. With Luke Joeckel fizzling out in Jacksonville as both a tackle and a guard, the rumor has some legs.
There are a couple of positions the Bengals don’t seem to value highly in the draft, be it tight end or offensive guard. Yet, from 2010-2013, the Bengals used three first round picks on those positions, on Jermaine Gresham, Zeitler and Tyler Eifert. Zeitler was selected at No. 27 overall back in 2012, as one of two first round picks the team gained from the Raiders in the blockbuster Carson Palmer trade, along with Kirkpatrick at No. 17. Only Eifert remains under contract for 2017 at this point.
With rumblings of the Bengals allowing Zeitler to leave, the team has what it seems to believe as contingency plans in place. Aside from extending a tender to interior lineman T.J. Johnson on Tuesday (which he still needs to sign), the team also selected Christian Westerman in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft. Whether or not the team believes that either of these players are ready to potentially step into Zeitler’s starting role, however, is yet to be seen. It can be assumed that at least one more option will be brought in this offseason to compete for the starting right guard job, should Zeitler truly leave.
Last year, the Bengals’ offensive line struggled mightily. Whether it was failing to consistently open holes for running backs, or poor protection for quarterback Andy Dalton (to the tune of an allowance of 41 sacks), losing a quality offensive lineman like Zeitler isn’t an ideal scenario.