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Creating an NHL-style protected players list for the Bengals

Although NFL expansion does not seem to be in the cards any time soon, who would the Bengals refuse to part with if faced with an expansion draft?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

League expansion has been a notable topic in the sports world lately. Major League Soccer has been steadily adding more and more teams to their portfolio during the last few years. And, on Wednesday the NHL will announce which players the Las Vegas Golden Knights will be signing as part of the league’s expansion draft. On Sunday, each NHL team announced the list of players they’d be protecting in an effort to ensure those players are not stolen away via the expansion draft. The Knights will select one player from each current NHL team to create an initial 30 players prior to the entry draft, which will be held this weekend. But, players on those protection lists cannot be selected in the expansion draft.

Each current NHL team was allocated a certain number of ‘protected’ designations to ensure the most important players to each franchise are not taken away. Here’s how the protection lists work, as outlined by the guidelines on

  • Each team had the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie OR eight skaters and one goalie.
  • All players with continuing and effective no-movement clauses must be protected.
  • All first- and second-year professionals are exempt from selection, as are unsigned draft choices.

In the NFL, league expansion seems extremely unlikely. The league has discussed the possibilities of setting up franchises outside of the country, in cities such as Mexico City, London, or Toronto. But, 32 teams in the league seems like a perfect number. It allows for eight total divisions (four per conference) with a total of exactly four teams in each conference.

Throwing extra teams into that equation seems unnecessarily complicated, so it is much more likely the NFL will seek to enter international markets through relocation, rather than going through extreme means to maintain such exquisite balance while still juggling expansion.

However, it is still interesting to think about which players on the Bengals’ roster would earn a ‘protected’ designation if league expansion were to happen. For the NHL, teams were rewarded for protecting more offensive players than defensive players by getting 11 protected players in that scenario. When teams wanted to protect more defensive players (via the eight skaters and one goalie selection) they only got to protect nine. In our hypothetical expansion draft, we allowed for five offensive players, five defensive players and one special teamer. While in hockey there’s more offensive players on the ice at any given time, the same is not true in football.

Here’s what we ended up with, keeping in mind that first and second year players do not require protection:


  • A.J. Green
  • Andy Dalton
  • Giovani Bernard
  • Tyler Eifert
  • Clint Boling


  • Geno Atkins
  • Carlos Dunlap
  • Vontaze Burfict
  • George Iloka
  • Vincent Rey

Special Teams:

  • Kevin Huber

Save for the obvious star players mentioned near the top of this list, deciding on only 11 players was difficult. Important players like Dre Kirkpatrick, Ryan Hewitt, Shawn Williams and Brandon LaFell just missed the cut. Luckily, the Bengals would not have to face losing all of those players, but just one in an expansion draft.

Due to the number of players the Bengals have added in the last two years, much of their talent would already be protected. Any new NFL team would love to have guys like John Ross, Joe Mixon, Nick Vigil, Jake Elliott, Alex Erickson, Tyler Boyd and others. But, players with less than two years of experience are not eligible to be selected.

The inclusion of Vincent Rey on this list over certain full-time starting players may be a point of contention. But, few players on the Bengals’ roster provide more stability than Rey. Whenever the Bengals need a fill-in starter at linebacker, he does an incredible job. Given the amount of turnover already experienced at the linebacker position this year, losing key guys like Rey or Burfict would be devastating, which is why they are both on the list. Rey also helps on special teams, which is key.

Including Kevin Huber on this list could also be a controversial decision. Is the 31-year old punter who struggled last season really worth protecting?


Through most of his career, Huber has been one of the best punters in the NFL. Assuming he can return to the level at which he has played for most of his career, the Bengals wouldn’t want to lose his ability to keep opposing special teams units honest, especially considering, as a punter, his career could last another decade.

The Bengals have enough depth at cornerback, safety, and center to withstand losing the aforementioned players. Even at fullback, the Bengals could potentially convert a guy like Mason Schreck or C.J. Uzomah to compete against Darrin Laufasa, the undrafted fullback out of UTEP. It would be much more difficult to find a punter as experienced and reliable as Huber.

If you had to pick 11 players from the Bengals’ current roster to protect from an expansion draft (five on offense, five on defense, one on special teams), who would it be? Let us know in the comments!