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Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick re-signing with Bengals

Dre Kirkpatrick finally developed into a solid corner this past season, and he’s getting rewarded for it.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are re-signing Dre Kirkpatrick, according to the cornerback himself.

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 was drafted with the first-round pick Cincinnati acquired in the Carson Palmer trade.

The All-SEC stud was brought in to be a starting boundary corner sooner rather than later, but the emergence of Terence Newman and Adam Jones delayed that from happening.

Kirkpatrick would see spot duty for the first three seasons before finally earning a starting job in 2015 when Newman left to sign with the Vikings. That led to Kirkpatrick starting on the boundary alongside Adam Jones, though the results were mostly bad as he became a liability more often than not.

But Kirkpatrick would improve as the season wore on, and he entered 2016 poised to take an even bigger step forward with Leon Hall gone. In 15 games played last season (14 games started), Kirkpatrick registered 46 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He finished as Pro Football Focus’ 53rd-ranked corner out of 112 eligible players. The one game in which he played but didn’t start was simply to give Darqueze Dennard a brief chance on the boundary. It was short-lived.

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.

Kirkpatrick showed enough flashes to think he’ll be a good, if not great corner in the long-term. At age 27 with just two full seasons of being a starter under his belt, there’s reason to believe Kirkpatrick is only going to get better over the course of his next contract.

This comes as the first positive news of the day for the Bengals who have now seen their two best offensive lineman leave in free agency. Andrew Whitworth has signed with the Rams on a three year deal and Kevin Zeitler is leaving for the division-rival Browns on a five-year deal. The other big-name free agent in Cincinnati will not be allowed to walk as the Bengals have now locked up Kirkpatrick through 2021.

With Jones’ status with the team still in question, re-signing Kirkpatrick was a near necessity for the Bengals. Jones’ January arrest still looms large and he very likely could be suspended by the NFL for a portion of the 2017 NFL season. He’s due back in court later in March and the Bengals have said they won’t decide on his future until the legal system plays out.

Congratulations to Kirkpatrick on his new five-year deal with the Bengals.

UPDATE: Per Jim Owczarski, the deal is said to be “close to” $52.5 million over the course of five years.