A lot can change in the NFL in just two years.
With the constant rise of the salary cap and compensatory picks becoming tradable assets, NFL teams have the ability to always be aggressive and never be too damaged for bad investments via free agency or the NFL Draft.
It’s still a quarterback-driven industry, but the most prominent contenders like the Rams, Eagles and Saints are constantly evolving their teams in every available facet, even if that means trading away cheap talent or draft picks.
The Bengals aren’t on the same level as those franchises, but this isn’t always a bad thing. Plenty of teams that trade away talented players or acquire them are sacrificing high compensation in the hopes of extending a championship window or are just building for one.
While the Bengals could still learn to be a little more aggressive in their team-building approach, it’s clear that not much on this roster should be drastically changing by 2020. With that said, let’s observe who ESPN views as a lock to be on the roster in a couple of seasons:
Virtual locks: DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, C Billy Price, RB Joe Mixon, DE Carl Lawson, WR A.J. Green, CB William Jackson, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Malik Jefferson, S Jessie Bates, DE Jordan Willis
On the bubble: WR Tyler Boyd, WR John Ross, T Cordy Glenn, G Clint Boling, QB Andy Dalton, LB Nick Vigil, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Shawn Williams
Unlikely notables: T Cedric Ogbuehi, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard, DE Michael Johnson, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Darqueze Dennard
The locks are pretty clear as most of them are either rookies, productive young players or cornerstones for the franchise. Dunlap and Atkins just received contract extensions this offseason, so we know the franchise is committed to having them retire as Bengals.
The only players that should even be considered bubble players at this point are Willis and Jefferson. Jefferson hasn’t even taken a single snap on defense yet despite the linebacker position being decimated by injuries, but he has been solid on special teams. Willis looks to be Michael Johnson’s replacement as a base defensive end, but at least Johnson broke out as a pass-rusher for a few seasons. Willis has yet to do so.
The big issue with the listed bubble players is Boyd. This season should cement his status as a lock for years to come, but it’s logical to be cautiously optimistic about that. The only reason Boyd was drafted was so he could compensate for the loss of both Marvin Jones Jr. and Mohamed Sanu following the 2015 season. The sooner the Bengals retain Boyd, the better. Ross really needs to get healthy in order to be bumped up to a lock as well.
Andy Dalton is a virtual lock to be here, even though his contract runs out following the 2020 season. Regardless of what happens over the next two years, there’s very little doubt that Dalton remains in Cincinnati through at least the 2020 season, and it’s likely he gets a long-term extension to remain here for the foreseeable future.
Glenn, Boling, Vigil and Kirkpatrick are all veterans who have been productive for Cincinnati, but the Bengals usually have a habit of letting guys walk a season or two before they drop in production rather than waiting a year or two. Vigil is the youngest of that group, so he may be sticking around.
Of all the unlikely players to be around in 2020, Bernard is probably the hardest one to swallow. He has been a fan favorite since his rookie year, even though he’s been overshadowed by both Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon for most of his career.
The Bengals drafted Mark Walton for depth at the running back position, but it’s possible that he could become Bernard’s long-term replacement. Without a doubt, it would be a sad day if Bernard ever lines up in another team’s backfield.
Burfict isn’t too surprising to be listed along with Bernard. He is among a group of aging vets who hasn’t produced up to their standards this season, and he is still toeing the line despite multiple warning from the league office. The Bengals need to get more athletic at that position anyway.
Which players do you think will be around for 2020?