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Ranking the importance of all 31 potential Bengals 2019 free agents

The Bengals have had some big free agent losses in recent years who have rocked the franchise. Many popular names have are set to see their contracts expire after this season. Who are the most important players for the Bengals to re-sign?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Th Bengals are always thinking both long-term and short-term. Who is going to start on Thursday in the preseason opener and who is going to be extended to new deals keeping them in Cincinnati for the long-term. The process of juggling a roster and building a team isn’t an easy one and the Bengals have 31 players currently on the 90-man roster who are set to become free agents in March 2019.

So, who should be prioritized and stick around? Who do the Bengals need to get new deals to as soon as possible? Much will change based on 2018 output and more than a few of these guys won’t even make the 53-man roster in September. But, let’s take a stab at ranking the Bengals’ 31 potential 2019 free agents.

1. Geno Atkins

Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are the two obvious choices to start off the list, but what Atkins does is harder to replace. He is a force at the three-technique position and one of the best interior pass rushers around. Atkins is special and the team needs to do what it takes to keep him around. The hope is he will be extended in the month before the season starts.

2. Carlos Dunlap

Dunlap is one of the best players on the team and you absolutely want to see him stay in stripes, but the additions of Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis, and now Sam Hubbard make him someone the team could live without. Still, Dunlap is an incredible talent at a marquis position. It would be in the team’s best interest to keep him and work a rotation with all of these players. Just look at what the Eagles did by collecting a lot of pass rushers.

3. Tyler Eifert

Maybe this is optimistic, but a healthy Eifert changes this offense, and finding another tight end who can do what he does is not easy. No tight end on the roster has had the impact in the passing game that Eifert has had. Sure, he has been consistently injured, but that does not have to be the case moving forward. Rob Gronkowski has had similar struggles, but managed to avoid injury for most of 2017 until suffering a concussion in the playoffs. If Eifert stays healthy this season, expect to see him re-upped in Cincinnati as a top priority.

4. Preston Brown

The Bengals have shuffled several veteran linebackers in and out in recent years. Re-signing Brown would give them stability in a group whose only consistent presence has Vontaze Burfict. If Brown adjusts well to his new surroundings, he needs to be brought back in 2019. But, he has yet to play a game for the Bengals and will need to prove his ability first.

5. Trey Hopkins

Stability on the offensive line should be a priority. Hopkins may be the starting right guard, but even if he isn’t, he will likely be the unit’s sixth man. Hopkins has a lot of value to the team. Keeping him in 2019, even in a reserve role would be helpful moving forward.

6. Darqueze Dennard

This one may be difficult. Despite his success in the slot, Dennard may be looking for an opportunity to play on the outside. The Bengals drafted a trio of defensive backs this year and between them, the team could find a way to replace Dennard’s role. Now to mention, the team is paying a lot of money for Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson, and Jackson may be the priority to re-sign when his time comes. Davontae Harris could fit well into this role or the Bengals could figure out a new plan when the time comes.

7. Jake Fisher

If Fisher can establish himself as a good, reliable starter at right tackle the team needs to do what it takes to bring him back. But, right now he’s in a battle for the right tackle role and not sure to start. In fact, Bobby Hart is the first team right tackle on the first depth chart. Solidifying the offensive line needs to remain a priority. It would be huge for the Bengals if Fisher could provide a long term answer at right tackle. If Fisher doesn’t start at right tackle this year, he gets bumped down this list quite significantly.

8. Tyler Kroft

Kroft is a good player who does a lot for this team and has filled the starting tight end role in Eifert’s absence. Although he contributes to the success of the offense, Kroft is not the new era play-making tight end that this offense needs. He would be great to have, but is not a top priority.

9. C.J. Uzomah

Uzomah has shown some ability in the pass game, but has not been utilized in the Bengals’ offense as much as he could be. If Eifert is sidelined, he could be a productive pass catcher and the Bengals will need to give him enough action this season to find out if he could be the future of the position.

10. Clark Harris

Clark Harris was the only Bengals player at the Pro Bowl last season. The team will certainly look to bring the skilled long snapper back in 2019. He could be extended sooner than later.

11. Alex Redmond

Redmond is in the hunt for the starting right guard position, but at the very least provides depth. Redmond is young and still developing and could blossom under the tutelage of his new position coach.

12. Alex Erickson

Erickson has shown some ability on offense, but has not been used much on that side of the ball. His primary role is as a kick and punt returner. The Bengals likely drafted cornerback Darius Phillips with the idea that he could take over Erickson’s returning duties (at least on kick-offs). That combined with all of the young talent at the wide receiver position, may mean that Erickson’s time in Cincinnati is coming to an end.

13. Josh Shaw

Shaw’s situation is similar to Dennard’s and he could also be a part of replacing Dennard. With the build up of young talent at defensive back, one of these guys could become expendable. In reality, Shaw might not even make the team this year as the coaches have moved him to a crowded safety position.

14. Brandon Wilson

Wilson an extremely gifted athlete who could develop into a serious player for the Bengals with time. The defensive back position has gotten crowded, but his ability to contribute on special teams may help him establish himself with the team. Again, he has to make this year’s roster first so his situation in 2019 could look vastly different.

15. Hardy Nickerson

The undrafted rookie played in the majority of the Bengals’ games last year and showed a lot of promise. If he continues to develop he could be an important part of the Bengals’ defense moving forward. He’s not a roster lock this season though, so this is another situation to watch.

16. Randy Bullock

Jake Elliott may be nailing 61 yarders, winning Super Bowls, and constantly posting glimpses into how awesome his life is on social media, but Bullock has at least been a consistent kicker for the Bengals. The team could move on from him, but they could and have certainly done worse.

17. Vincent Rey

Rey is a solid linebacker but at his age he is not a player the Bengals should be prioritizing. Young linebackers like Nick Vigil, Nickerson, and Jordan Evans need to be the priority. Rey is a good fill-in player, but doesn’t need to be in the team’s future plans

18. Bobby Hart

Hart had some success as a right tackle with the Giants in 2016, but had a major drop off in 2017. If he can establish himself at right tackle or even as a solid swing tackle to backup the left and right tackles, he would be a much higher priority. Right now, he’s the No. 1 RT on the depth chart, and if he starts and thrives this season, he could see himself jump high up this list. This is a wait and see situation.

19. Michael Johnson

Johnson saw some action on the inside in 2018, which benefited the team’s pass rush. However, with the additions of Lawson, Willis, and Hubbard, Johnson could be the odd man out, particularly if the team is able to re-sign Dunlap. This very well could be Johnson’s final year in Cincinnati as he likely is not a priority to re-sign.

20. Chris Baker

Baker has had his ups and downs during his career, but the Bengals are hoping he can bounce back and give them some production on the defensive line. If he can play to his potential, he will become a high priority, but as it is he is a long shot. He is currently behind Andrew Billings on the depth chart at nose tackle.

21. T.J. Johnson

As the backup center, Johnson’s most desirable quality in recent years has been that he is not Russell Bodine. With Hopkins working some center this offseason Johnson may become expendable.

22. Cedric Ogbuehi

The Bengals did not pick up Ogbuehi’s fifth-year option, which surprised no one. He has been a major disappointment since being drafted in the first round. Many hold on to hope that Frank Pollack can somehow fix him during the next several weeks, but it is doubtful that Ogbuehi is in the Bengals’ plans for the future.

23. Josh Tupou

The big defensive tackle spent most of 2017 on the practice squad. If he can show the team his value in 2018, he may be worth continuing to develop. Right now, he’s injured and isn’t expected to return particularly soon.

24. Kent Perkins

Perkins was a rookie who spent most of the year on the practice squad in 2017. He has some raw ability and may be worth bringing back to continue to develop.

25. Tony McRae

After the Bengals added two cornerbacks through the draft, McRae may find himself as the off man out before the season starts. If he manages to hold on and the Bengals lose some of their other veterans, he may be a good depth piece to hold on to. Right now, McRae is also injured.

26. Brian Hill

Hill was an extremely productive running back in college and was picked up off the Falcons’ practice squad last season. With Jeremy Hill (no relation) moving on, Brian Hill could be a nice change of pace for the team. But at the end of the day, how many carries would the Bengals actually take away from Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard? Not to mention, the team drafted Mark Walton in the fourth round and he figures to make the roster.

27. Justin Murray

During the last year, Murray has spent time with he Broncos, Buccaneers, and Saints but has never made it past the practice squad. Could the offensive tackle be the next Trey Hopkins, clinging on to the practice squad until he finally gets his chance?

28. Brandon Bell

The young linebacker has an opportunity to step up in a group that could use depth, but special teams is his best change of moving forward with the Bengals. He spent much of his rookie season in 2017 on the practice squad before being added to the active roster for the last three games of the year.

29, Mortiz Bohringer

The tight end is part of the International Player Pathway Program, which means he will be a practice squad player in 2018 and it will not cost the Bengals a roster spot (or practice squad spot). After playing German club football, he was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round and was a practice squad wide receiver in 2016. He is a great unknown. Obviously someone within the Vikings’ organization must have seen something in him to draft a guy with no college football experience, but can he show the Bengals enough over the course of the season to earn a spot in 2019?

30. Tra Carson

Carson will need to show his value on special teams to make the active roster long-term. Last year he was on Injured/Reserve all year, so his potential beyond the preseason is largely unknown.

31. Jarveon Williams

The running back appeared in one game last year. His best change of making the roster this year and earning a spot for the future is making a notable contribution on special teams.