It’s a big year for the Cincinnati Bengals, as they attempt to re-invent themselves and get back into the postseason. It’s going to take a complete group effort to do so, ranging from the promising young players they have amassed over the past couple of years, to some of their most reliable veterans.
There is a lot of pressure on this year’s team to get back to winning ways. Unfulfilled potential, a lack of playoff wins and some of the same frustrating scenery still mark the 2017 squad. There are a number of players on this year’s roster who have a lot to live up to for a variety of reasons.
Which Bengals player has the most pressure on them this year?
Guys playing for a new contract:
Vontaze Burfict: It’s quite possible the Bengals engage in their trademark summer practice of re-signing their core guys once again this year. Heck, Burfict was one of those back in 2014 when he signed a four-year extension. But, he’s facing a contract year in a career filled with some questions.
When he’s on the field, there is no doubt No. 55 is one of the best and most feared linebackers in the game. However, injuries and suspensions have limited his time on the field, as Burfict has missed 23 games (including postseason) during the past three seasons.
The guy who has a knack for making huge plays deserves a new, big deal, but it might have to be one that is incentive-laden because of so much missed time of late. In the scenario that he doesn’t agree to a deal this summer, Burfict will need to prove that he can stay healthy and be productive in 2017 for a big deal, whether it’s from the Bengals or someone else.
Tyler Eifert: The Pro Bowl tight end is in a very similar boat as Burfict. When on the field, the guy is a touchdown machine and is in the Rob Gronkowski/Travis Kelce/Jimmy Graham tier of the top players in the league at the position. He is also seemingly looking for a new deal this offseason, but injuries have stunted the seemingly-limitless ceiling of the former first round pick.
If the Bengals don’t re-sign both Burfict and Eifert this offseason, they’ll have a big decision to make next offseason. Franchise tags and possible bidding wars with other clubs are on the horizon if these guys aren’t locked up long-term.
Jeremy Hill: By now, anyone who has followed the team knows about the ebbs and flows with Hill’s career. After a breakout rookie season where he looked poised to enter the ranks of Corey Dillon, he has struggled with fumbles and a lack of consistency.
With Joe Mixon emerging as a viable candidate to take the glut of the touches this year, Hill might be relegated as a short-yardage guy this season. He would have to be particularly disappointed in that role, especially when he is also in a contract year.
Guys trying to live up to a previously-signed lucrative deal:
Michael Johnson: Most were ecstatic when they found out Johnson was coming back in the 2015 offseason. He has remained his durable self, playing in all 33 games since returning and adding 8.5 sacks, while remaining effective against the run.
Still, fans, and apparently the coaches, are looking for more sources of creating pressure. Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson were added in the draft this year, pushing Johnson to be more effective is he’s still going to see extensive snaps this season. He also recently turned 30-years-old, so Lawson and Willis could immediately cut into his playing time should they continue to flash during training camp and the preseason.
Adam Jones: Jones’ pressure stems from a slight dip in production as a returner and corner last year from that of 2015—especially after signing a three-year deal in the 2016 offseason. He will turn 34-years-old early in the regular season and appears to once again be the starting corner opposite of Dre Kirkpatrick.
Aside from all of those factors, Jones has a number of promising, young corners nipping at his heels. Oh, and let’s not forget the offseason legal issue. If his play dips further, it will be easy for many pundits to point at the most recent headache as a reason why.
Dre Kirkpatrick: The team’s other starting corner signed a five-year, $52.5 million deal this offseason. On one hand, the veteran corner has deserved it. After struggling to see the field for a variety of reasons his first couple of seasons, he was finally given the full-time starting gig in 2015. After not grabbing an interception in all of 2015, he had three last year and largely showed marked improvement.
Still, any time a player signs a big free agent deal, whether it’s with his own team or another, pressure mounts. Like Jones, Kirkpatrick has a bunch of other younger corners behind him, including the enigmatic William Jackson III, so he can’t overthink himself after such a big payday.
Andy Dalton: Unfortunately for Dalton, his placement on this list is because of the continued heartbreak in the postseason. A good chunk of the blame should be on the quarterback, but other players and coaches on the team also failed miserably and he wasn’t even available for the most recent wild card debacle in January 2016.
While he played admirably last season in the midst of so much roster turnover and surrounding injuries, he didn’t quite look like the same guy we saw make a run at an NFL MVP the year prior. Even though he has greatly improved in critical areas like turnovers, passer rating and completion percentage the past two seasons, he still doesn’t have a postseason win to his name.
Also making matters cloudy is his being in one of the last years of a 2014-signed extension that is friendly for the Bengals. While Dalton is technically under contract until 2020, the team has an opt-out clause in 2018, should they choose to use it. That makes this year quite important for No. 14.
Which Bengals player is under the most pressure in 2017?
This poll is closed
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