Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives, as taught by Socrates and a popular American soap opera.
Even though we are on the precipice of free agency for the 2018 season, the 2019 free agency period will be upon us before we realize. And instead of waiting for a player to become a free agent before re-signing him, the Bengals have generally made an effort to sign their better home-grown talent before they have a chance to get away.
So which Bengals players currently slated to become free agents after the 2018 season should be a priority for the Bengals to re-sign now, before they can become free agents after the upcoming season? We look at the candidates on offense and consider the importance of pursuing a contract extension with them sooner than later.
Both Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel are signed through the 2019 season.
Running Back: Brian Hill, Tra Carson
Both Brian Hill and Tra Carson are set to become exclusive rights free agents after the 2018 season, which more or less makes it quite unlikely they would sign elsewhere, short of the Bengals opting not to resign them after the 2018 season. There is no urgency to address this position with any extensions at the present time since both starters Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are signed thru the 2019 season, and Hill and Carson both provide relatively cheap, team-controllable depth.
Wide Receiver: Brandon LaFell, Alex Erickson, Levonte Whitfield
LaFell is the most notable name on that list, having accumulated 116 receptions and 1,410 receiving yards for the Bengals over the past two seasons. He will turn 33 during the 2019 NFL season, so the need to work on an extension with LaFell now is pretty non-existent as he should be a cheap signee after the 2018 season, should be Bengals go that route. Also the potential emergence of youngsters Tyler Boyd and John Ross could make LaFell an expendable veteran salary.
Surprisingly, Alex Erickson was the Bengals fourth-most productive wide receiver in 2017, although with only 12 receptions and 180 yards. He will be a restricted free agent following the 2018 season, so it will be difficult, albeit not impossible, for a team to pry him away after 2018. With a slew of young players like Boyd and Ross, along with Josh Malone and Cody Core signed beyond 2018, not to mention A.J. Green, the need to get Erickson locked up right now is rather minimal.
Tight End: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
Kroft and Uzomah flipped scripts between their second and third seasons. With Tyler Eifert out for a majority of both seasons, Kroft managed only 10 receptions in 2016 but jumped up to 42 this past year, to go with seven touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Uzomah followed up a surprising second season of 25 catches with a mere 10 this past season. Both players will be unrestricted free agents after the 2018 season.
Depending on what decision the Bengals make with Tyler Eifert after 2018, it may be necessary for the Bengals to lock up one of these two, lest Cethan Carter remain the only tight end on the roster after this upcoming season.
Of the two, it would seem that Kroft is currently viewed as more of the future starter than Uzomah, and therefore, the higher priority to sign.
Then of course, there’s Eifert, who was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, allowing him to become a free agent in 2019. Perhaps the Bengals will try to extend him, but more than likely, this is the last hurrah for Eifert in Cincinnati.
Offensive Line: Cedric Ogbuehi*, T.J. Johnson, Jake Fisher, Bobby Hart, Trey Hopkins, and Alex Redmond
The Bengals have a fifth-year team option on Ogbuehi, which they could pick up. If the Bengals pick that up, he will be signed thru the 2019 season, although based on how he has played in his first three years, that would almost seem like a waste of several million dollars in cap space.
Fisher has struggled even worse than Ogbuehi on the field, and was placed on Injured Reserve for an irregular heartbeat. Based on his play and health issues, he’s a very unlikely candidate to be with the Bengals beyond 2018, short of a Devon Still type of contract, but he’s not a candidate for the practice squad, so that doesn’t seem to be a likely option. Although, being cleared for offseason workouts provides a glimmer of hope for Fisher.
Both Hopkins and Redmond are exclusive rights free agents following the 2018 season. With the difficulty for other teams swiping those players, there is no rush to get either player extended now, especially since it remains to be seen if either will garner starter duties in the future.
Players like Hopkins and Johnson haven’t played well enough to warrant any sort of consideration. Although Hopkins is far more likely to get a second contract if the Bengals are close to running low on linemen, but they would likely wait until after 2018 to decide that.