There is little doubt that the Cincinnati Bengals are in the midst of transition this offseason. It’s a good thing, based on back-to-back losing seasons, but that also means there might be some tough cuts ahead for the club.
This has become a bit of a mini-series here, where we’ve taken a look at some “usual suspects” on the cut list before and after the initial influx of free agency as well as before and after the draft. Keep in mind that these names are surfacing because of a combination of big paychecks and the questioning of their worthiness of it, based on recent play.
Could some newer, younger blood push more expensive veterans out of the door? If so, here are some things to consider and the candidates who are hovering around the chopping block.
Factors to consider:
Younger, cheaper options in the draft: Obviously, this is the crux of the argument. If Cincinnati gets a handful of immediate contributors at positions of need on nights one and two of the draft, some very familiar faces might be sent their walking papers.
As it currently stands, linebacker, defensive tackle and offensive line seem to be the biggest areas the Bengals need to address next week. Still, if other positions like those in the secondary and even wide receiver are addressed earlier than most suspect, then some of the fans’ favorite whipping boys could be on the chopping block.
Eric Reid: A couple of weeks ago, Cincinnati made headlines by bringing in the veteran safety for a visit. Usually, an off-the-street safety coming into The Queen City wouldn’t be national news, but with Reid’s controversial and open political stances, eyebrows were raised with the visit.
Reid left without a deal, but some folks noted that the idea of the Bengals bringing him in at some point isn’t exactly dead. Despite the fact that Mike Brown made it known that national anthem kneeling won’t be tolerated with Bengals players, Cincinnati might circle back around with a contract offer to Reid should they eschew going with a safety in the draft.
Though the team still has some salary cap space (nearly $17 million per Over The Cap), they are looking to use some of that money to extend players like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. While a Reid signing would still leave manageable space, there could be ramifications with the other contracts they want to dole out and guys could be on the chopping block.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell
Reasons: The veteran wideout has been with the Bengals since 2016 on a couple of rental deals and is in the last year of his second contract with the club. In two accrued seasons, he’s had two of the better statistical seasons of his career, averaging 58 catches, 705 yards and 4.5 touchdowns per year.
Still, fans want more. LaFell has been relatively reliable in terms of catching the ball when he’s targeted and has had a couple of huge plays with the Bengals, but the lack of consistency in being a big threat has fans irked. Is he worth the $4 million this year when a young receiver could be had for cheaper and providing the allowance for more opportunities for John Ross?
2018 salary cap hit: $4 million
What used draft collateral it would take for a possible move: If a receiver is taken in round 4 or higher next weekend and seems to be one who isn’t a “project”, LaFell’s job could be in jeopardy.
Probability: Less than 20 percent. The Bengals just paid a $1 million roster bonus to LaFell not too long ago and love his veteran leadership in the locker room.
Defensive lineman Michael Johnson
Reasons: For a defensive end, Johnson’s sack numbers haven’t been very desirable. Since re-joining the Bengals in 2015, the veteran edge rusher is only averaging 4.5 sacks per season.
His role has diminished with the emergence of Carl Lawson and he’s now more of an edge-setter in the run game and a rotational guy in pass rush schemes. Is that worth a hefty price tag?
2018 salary cap hit: $6.11 million
What used draft collateral it would take for a possible move: A drafting of an edge rusher, be it of Johnson’s or Lawson’s physical mold on days one or two would bring a good chance of him getting pushed out of the door. Still, some of the rookies who could be in play are a bit raw.
Probability: Less than 35 percent. Even a selection of an edge rusher might not be enough to push him out of the door, as the team is also looking for a replacement for Chris Smith this offseason. Let’s also not forget that the team loves his veteran leadership, he is an amazing individual and he found a niche as a productive rusher on the inside of the line last year.
Linebacker Vincent Rey
Reasons: Being a former coach myself, Rey is a guy you love to have on your roster. Incredible attitude, makes some plays when given an opportunity and does what you ask without any attitude issues. Still, even though Rey has been a fringe starter and valuable backup, there have been some big missed plays over the years by No. 57.
Remember the 2015 Wild Card game? Rey dropped a critical interception in the red zone, which ended up leading to a Steelers field goal. That’s just one example of some recent issues and he’s more of a chase-and-tackle guy over a play-maker at this point in his career.
2018 salary cap hit: $2.73 million
What used draft collateral it would take for a possible move: It’s going to need to be a linebacker drafted on nights one or two to possibly push him out the door. Drafting multiple, including one in the first three rounds could also push him out.
Probability: Less than 30 percent. Rey is another guy the coaches love for his football acumen, his willingness to do anything asked of him, his special teams prowess and his versatility. Like LaFell and Johnson, he is also a valuable locker room guy who Marvin Lewis will likely lean on in a year of some transition.
If the Bengals do take a linebacker in the first three rounds, that doesn’t necessarily mean Rey will immediately be shown the door. If he’s ushered out at all in that scenario, it won’t be until Week 5 when Vontaze Burfict returns from a suspension.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick:
Reasons: Sometime late last season, we learned of a dubious statistic attributed to Kirkpatrick: since 2015, no defensive player has had as many penalties against them as No. 27. Couple that with a 2017 season where Kirkpatrick had just one interception and many are questioning his value relative to the contract he signed before last season.
Though he’s the most battle-tested corner on the team, William Jackson seems to be prepared to become an upper-echelon NFL corner, while Darqueze Dennard seems to finally be hitting his stride. The Bengals already said goodbye to Adam Jones because of a lack of returns (see what I did there?) on his production and contract numbers—could Dre be next?
2018 salary cap hit: $9.6 million
What used draft collateral it would take for a possible move: The team drafting a first round corner again could push Kirkpatrick. It’s not the most likely scenario, but if the board falls a certain way, I guess anything is possible.
Probability: Less than 20 percent. Based on his play last year, I think this is one of the worst contracts on the roster. However, Cincinnati loves their first round corners and despise admitting when they’ve made a mistake in doling out a contract. Jackson looks like the real deal, but he still has a little bit more to prove, while Dennard needs to show he can stay healthy and productive. Lewis will rely on Kirkpatrick this year, as the Bengals will eat this cap hit.
Safety George Iloka:
Reasons: Like Kirkpatrick, Iloka is in the middle of a lucrative deal that he hasn’t fully live up to. Cincinnati made him one of the higher-paid safeties in the NFL, but he is also coming off of a season where he had just one interception.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin apparently wants to use more three-safety looks, hence the interest in Reid and Kurt Coleman before that, but he also wants more big plays and turnovers. If he doesn’t think Iloka and Shawn Williams are up to the task, they might move another direction.
2018 salary cap hit: $6.2 million
What used draft collateral it would take for a possible move:
Probability: Less than 15 percent. When healthy and the defense isn’t banged up around him, Iloka is a productive player. There is some worry that a noticeable dip in his play coincides with Reggie Nelson’s departure, but Iloka should be safe, despite carrying a big number at a position the team doesn’t traditionally value very highly.
Safety Shawn Williams:
Reasons: I won’t repeat myself, as many of the same reasons with Williams are identical to that of Iloka mentioned above. He was also part of the starting trifecta of 2017 Bengals defensive backs who had just one interception last year and that’s just one stat that led to the Bengals having major trouble getting off of the field on third down in 2017.
2018 salary cap hit: $4.1 million
What used draft collateral it would take for a possible move: If the Bengals end up drafting Justin Reid and/or someone like Ronnie Harrison, it could be writing on the wall for Williams—even with Austin’s three safety ideas.
Probability: 40 percent. I think he’s one of the more likely guys to get cut on this list, but I still don’t necessarily see it happening. It’s probable that Austin will give a lot of these guys this initial year to ease into his system, as he is also transitioning from the Lions himself.