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Which 2019 Bengals free agents should be the top priority to re-sign on defense?

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Which defensive players should the Bengals keep from even sniffing the open market in 2019?

Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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. 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 in 2019? We look at the candidates on defense and consider the importance of pursuing a contract extension with them sooner than later.

Defensive Line: Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson

That’s three quarters of the Bengals defensive line, with Atkins and Dunlap representing their two best defensive linemen. It’s hard to believe that the Bengals have already enjoyed eight years of both Atkins and Dunlap, and their combined total of more than 125 career sacks. All three will be in their 30’s following the 2018 season, with Johnson already 31 years old.

The Bengals love Johnson, but there is no need to extend a to-be 32 year old Johnson before the end of 2018. He should be replaceable, presumably with Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis, who can play the defensive end, edge rushing roles.

Dunlap signed a relatively cheap 5-year $39 million deal after his rookie contract, and has outplayed that, recording 7.5 to 13.5 sacks per season in that span. He may be looking for a pay raise to make up for lost wages, which would be unlikely given Dunlap will be 30 for the 2019 season.

Atkins is a beast (recorded 9.0 or more sacks in each of the past three seasons) and, until he proves otherwise, is somebody who I would look to lock up for a couple more seasons beyond his current contract. The Bengals do have decent young talent like Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow, but neither one comes close to what Atkins is.

It should come as no surprise though that the Bengals have made it a priority to extend Atkins and Dunlap this offseason.

Linebacker: Vincent Rey and Preston Brown

Rey was the only linebacker scheduled to become a free agent after the 2018 season until the Bengals signed Preston Brown away from the Bills, but it’s only a one-year deal. Brown figures to have an instrumental role in Cincinnati’s defense, which will hopefully get parlayed into an extension at some point.

As for Rey, he has been a leading tackler for the Bengals, but mostly because Vontaze Burfict can’t stay on the field, and the Bengals have struggled to find a quality third linebacker. He’s a great backup and admirable spot starter, but he is not somebody the Bengals should look to lock-up long-term, especially since he is already 30 years old.

Hopefully youngsters Brandon Bell, Hardy Nickerson, Nick Vigil and/or Brown can fill Rey’s role as a serviceable starter.

Defensive Back: Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw

The Bengals three starters for 2018 (assumed) are all signed thru 2019, so they are set with their “top” players in the secondary, but the depth could become thin in a hurry, with their top backups both becoming free agents after the 2018 season.

Dennard only played in 30 percent of the team’s defensive plays last year, and hasn’t been much of a factor since being drafted in 2014. William Jackson looked like he had a bright future ahead of him after last season, and Dre Kirkpatrick is locked up for a while. This makes signing Dennard to a new contract not as much of a priority.

Shaw surprisingly showed up in over half of the Bengals defensive snaps last season, and in half of their special teams plays. He has been a versatile player and one that would make sense to keep on the roster. He will only be 26 after 2018, and if he can be extended on a cheaper, backup type of contract, there’s no reason not to try to get that done sooner than later.

The team choosing not to accept Adam Jones‘ option for the 2018 season does make things a little more clear that the team may be looking to move forward with Dennard as the third corner, or they will be looking to draft a possible replacement in one of the upcoming drafts.