It looks like the Bengals could lose Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler on the same day.
The Browns seem like a logical fit, as we wrote yesterday when reports surfaced that Cleveland, Indianapolis and Jacksonville were making a strong push. The Browns have the most money to offer, need at guard, and there’s a prior connection in Browns head coach Hue Jackson, who was in Cincinnati from 2012-15 with Zeitler.
But the Saints are in better position to win now, not to mention New Orleans has one of the game’s best quarterbacks in Drew Brees. Cleveland offers neither of those, so if Zeitler wants to contend for a playoff spot, New Orleans seems like a good fit.
However, the Saints only have around $27 million in cap space right now, whereas the Bengals have about $40 million, so Cincinnati could easily match whatever New Orleans offers him. Cleveland has around $98 million, so they can top any offer Zeitler gets this offseason, which it sounds like they’re willing to do.
Spotrac has Zeitler projected to earn a deal paying him around $11.6 million annually, which is likely far above what the Bengals are willing to pay the stud guard. Spotrac's exact projection for Zeitler is five years, $57 million with an average annual salary of $11.5 million. That would make him the second highest paid guard in the NFL.
For comparison, Bengals left guard Clint Boling makes the 20th ranked annual guard salary and he has a five-year, $26 million contract. He's currently entering the third year of the deal in 2017.
All said, it’s looking more and more likely that Zeitler leaves Cincinnati this offseason, which would be yet another crushing blow after Whitworth left as well.