The Bengals’ roster is currently maxed out at the 90-man offseason limit.
Between now and the start of the 2018 regular season, 37 of those players will be off the roster in one way or another. Some of them will suffer injuries that land them on injured reserve, but most of them will be cut outright before the Bengals face the Colts to open the 2018 season.
While it’s easy to project 20-30 of those cuts, there could be some surprise players that are handed pink slips before Week 1. Here’s a look at the biggest surprise candidates that could be gone.
Brandon LaFell has caught the ire of Bengals fans over the last year, mainly because the aging veteran has been playing over more talented and younger options. LaFell 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 seasons, he’s averaged 58 catches, 705 yards and 4.5 touchdowns per year. However, he’s needed an average of 97 targets per year to get there. He also does more of his damage on short passes and struggles to get separation.
Pro Football Focus ranked LaFell 104th out of 116 eligible receivers in 2017. That’s not going to cut it, so LaFell should be squarely on the chopping block. However, the Bengals just paid a $1 million roster bonus to LaFell not too long ago and love his veteran leadership.
Still, if he struggles in the preseason while other receivers shine, he could be on the way out. The Bengals drafted Florida State receiver Auden Tate, who is a great red-zone threat that the team has been lacking outside of A.J. Green. Then there’s Cody Core and Josh Malone both offering promise and still on their rookie deals, whereas LaFell is near the end of his career.
Hopefully, if LaFell isn’t one of the six best receivers on this roster, he’s playing elsewhere next season.
After a rough 2016 season, Michael Johnson found a nice role as an interior pass-rusher on passing downs in 2017, though he still had just five sacks for the year. He’s also 31 now, so his decline will likely continue enough that he may become a major liability in 2018.
The Bengals are going to play Carl Lawson a lot more on the edge in 2018 after his breakout rookie season. He left no doubt he’s a big upgrade over Johnson, who’s role diminished as the season wore on (had just two sacks over his final 11 games).
It doesn’t help that the Bengals also want to play Jordan Willis more after he was quietly productive in his limited snaps as a rookie. He’ll be better in Year 2, while Johnson will likely continue to decline, putting him on the roster bubble.
Ideally, Johnson fends off father time one more year and keeps playing at a good level in 2018, but he’s at the point in his career where he may become a major weak point.
The Bengals really liked what they saw in their rookie receiver out of Tennessee in 2017, but it never translated to on-field production, as he caught just six passes for 63 yards and one score.
The Bengals are hoping to get him more involved in Year 2, but they already have a crowded receiver group to fight for those final 2-3 spots. Assuming A.J. Green, John Ross and Tyler Boyd make it, Malone will be fighting the likes of LaFell, Cody Core, Alex Erickson and Auden Tate for those final spots.
LaFell figures to have a leg up on that bunch, though he’s not a lock to make it, but his odds of making the final roster are greater than Malone’s. While Malone may have a lot of talent, his career production is less than LaFell, Core and Erickson, so the former fourth-round pick out of Tennessee could be on the way out if he doesn’t have a big preseason.
The Bengals like what they have in Alex Redmond, a former undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2016. Redmond made the final roster in 2017 and even played 80 snaps over the final two games, a stretch in which the Bengals had their best rushing output of the season (288 yards on 64 carries, a 4.5 avg).
However, the Bengals also like what they have in 2016 fifth-round pick Christian Westerman, as well as former undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins, who started 12 games last season.
The Bengals figure to keep TJ Johnson since he’s the backup center and can play both guard spots. Then there’s seventh-round rookie Rod Taylor and veteran Bobby Hart, both of whom figure to play guard this season. Cedric Ogbuehi is also going to attempt to play guard, so the Bengals may keep just one of Westerman and Redmond.
In that case, Redmond could be the one who’s on the outside looking in.