The Bengals have announced that cornerback Darqueze Dennard’ fifth-year option has been picked up, meaning he’s now under contract through the 2018 NFL season.
Now entering his fourth NFL season in 2017, Dennard is still playing under his rookie contract. Because he was a first-round pick, his deal includes a fifth-year option that the Bengals had to exercise by May 3rd, which they now have.
Dennard will now earn $8,526,000 in 2018, making him one of the higher-paid corners in the NFL. The Bengals will also be paying $9.6 million to fellow corner Dre Kirkpatrick in 2018, as well as $6.66 million to Adam Jones assuming he’s not cut sooner.
That means Cincinnati will be paying around $30 million to cornerbacks in 2018. For comparison, Washington currently leads the NFL in money being paid to its corners in 2017 ($30,638,106), according to Spotrac.
The Bengals obviously didn’t want Dennard hitting the open market next season after using the No. 24 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on him. Letting a first-round pick leave before he even plays five seasons with his team is a bad look and a major miss in that draft, something the Bengals really can’t afford right now.
And it’s not like Dennard has been a disaster thus far. He missed a lot of his first and second seasons with injuries, but he showed flashes of being a solid corner when he did play.
Dennard has spent most of his playing time during his first three seasons playing in the slot, though he’s a better fit for the outside, which Kirkpatrick and Jones have manned during that span. Once Dennard gets more playing time on the outside, he should develop into a nice corner. But, he needs the opportunity to show what he can do.
Having Dennard at corner also allows the Bengals to use Josh Shaw at safety, which they seem to think is his best position in this defense. Shaw is a good defensive back who has been forced to play mostly at corner thus far, he even won the slot role over Dennard for much of last season.
So, it’s unclear if Dennard will hop back over him on the cornerback depth chart in 2017. But, in an ideal scenario, Dennard would prove his worth at cornerback while Shaw is used at safety.
Another reason the Bengals were smart to pick up Dennard’s fifth-year option is to allow them to cut Adam Jones next year (or sooner). Not only has Jones become a major problem off-the-field, but he’ll be 35 in September of 2018, and he already showed some decline in his play last season. Jones may also be suspended this or next season for his January 2017 arrest.
It’s safe to think Jones will be a shell of himself in 2018, and the Bengals would be wise to part ways with him by then. Having Dennard under contract makes that a lot easier to do. Jones is becoming a cancer to this team, and anything that helps get rid of him is a plus.
One final reason Cincinnati was smart to pick up the option was they don’t actually have to keep Dennard under that deal in 2018. If the Bengals feel Dennard doesn’t deserve it following the 2017 season, they can simply cut him next year, as the option is only guaranteed in the event of an injury. It’s rare to see a team pick up a player’s option and then cut him, but it’s still an option the Bengals should have if Dennard is just a disaster in 2017.
It’s pretty clear that the pros outweigh the cons, but not as much as you’d like to think for a first-round pick. You’d like to think a player drafted that high would have left no question as to whether his fifth-year option would be exercised, but this wasn’t as easy of a call as one would hope.
I still think the Bengals exercised it without much hesitation, being that they believe Dennard is still growing into his NFL role after missing a lot of his first two seasons with injury, not to mention being behind other corners and not getting as much playing time as the team had hoped.
That may not change much in 2017 with Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick still on the roster, and William Jackson III also figures to take on a bigger role. The Bengals would still be foolish to have let Dennard hit the open market in 2018, which is why they picked up his option.