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Bengals 2019 free agent class has some difficult decisions

The Bengals will be making some tough calls on their free agent class this offseason. Like what will the team do with several of Marvin Lewis’ guys now that he has been let go?

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The offseason has arrived, and NFL free agency will be here before you know it.

This is the first time in 16 seasons that we will see a new coach leading this team. That means several veterans could be passed up as times are changing.

Luckily, the Bengals did most of their work with this class before the season when they extended Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. However, there are enough depth players and question marks set to hit the free agent market that it still will be interesting to see what the Bengals do.

It should also be noted that A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd will highlight the team’s 2020 free agent group, and the team will likely be making their decisions this offseason with extensions for those two in mind.

The tight ends

Tyler Eifert: We might as well start with the biggest name on the list. Eifert had one of the best seasons we’ve seen a tight end have in 2015. He showed he was talented enough to be considered in the elite of his position.

However, he has failed to stay healthy any other season. Even in 2015 he missed three games. After a gruesome leg injury this season combined with him playing on a one-year deal, it is hard to say how motivated Cincinnati will be to bring him back.

Ultimately, they should go down a similar route with a one-year incentive deal, but they need to invest more at the position. Things can’t get derailed by a Eifert injury.

C.J. Uzomah: Uzomah really could have done more with his opportunity to start most of the season after Eifert and Tyler Kroft went down with injuries early. However, he was held back by play calling, Andy Dalton not being as comfortable with him and then Jeff Driskel. He should be worth a multiyear-contract suited for a second or backup tight end.

Although, there could be teams willing to outbid Cincinnati. If that happens, the Bengals should let him walk as this is a pretty strong tight end draft class.

Tyler Kroft: Kroft feels like the safety net for the Bengals. Outside of his seven touchdown in 2017 after Eifert got hurt, he hasn’t done much in the way of the passing game. He is an okay blocker, but you could easily find a better one.

Kroft’s 2017 numbers are actually pretty close with Uzomah’s 2018, but Kroft started every game in 2017. He is a suitable backup tight end based on his red-zone ability, but if it ultimately came down to Cincinnati losing all three of their tight ends or ending up with just Kroft, keeping Kroft is only slightly better.

Big names likely to move on

Darqueze Dennard: Cincinnati should try and keep Dennard as he a has been a solid (not great) option as a nickel cornerback. That position has become all the more valuable over the past few seasons as three-wide receiver sets become the norm.

It is still hard to pay three corners market value. Cincinnati already gave Dre Kirkpatrick a huge deal, and William Jackson will be in line for a huge contract in a couple of seasons as well. Dennard could end up being the odd man out in this equation, as he could easily fetch more on the open market than the Bengals are willing to give him.

Michael Johnson: Even had Lewis stayed, it was looking like it was Johnson’s time. The team has spent three mid-round picks on defensive ends the past two seasons in Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard.

Toward the end of last year, Johnson was in an equal rotation with Willis and Hubbard as Lawson was on injured reserve. He is a great locker room guy and person, but at some point it becomes obvious that he simply isn’t the same player he once was. He may end up signing a one-year deal, but he will have a major fight in order to make this team.

Jake Fisher: Fisher’s career has been derailed by injuries too often. He finally got his chance in 2018 to start briefly, only for it to be cut short by a back injury. Given he was a second-round pick in 2015 and how bad the state of offensive lines in the NFL have become, he could end up getting more than the Bengals would be willing to put towards him.

Vincent Rey: Rey has been a shell of himself for about two seasons now. He is a great story. He was an undrafted free agent who worked his way into becoming the first linebacker off the bench as well as an outstanding special teamer.

However, Rey lost his spot to Jordan Evans and Hardy Nickerson Jr. in 2018. He was rarely called upon even as Nickerson struggled and the entire unit was marked with injuries. With a new coach coming in, it shouldn’t be surprising to see the team move on as they overhaul the linebacking unit.

The last question mark

Preston Brown: Brown signed a one-year deal this past offseason. He looked pretty good early in the season during Vontaze Burfict’s suspension. He isn’t a great sideline-to-sideline or coverage linebacker, but he made a decent amount of plays when called upon. He played in seven games before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

If the Bengals aren’t looking to make a complete overhaul at the position, then keeping Brown on another one-year deal makes sense. He grew up a Bengals fan, and is a great leader and capable backup linebacker if the team ultimately drafts a starter.

It would also make sense if Cincinnati plans to move on from Burfict this offseason. Although, it is just as easy to see the Bengals starting over fresh last the position.

Probably need to leave:

  • Cedric Ogbuehi (offensive tackle)
  • Bobby Hart (offensive tackle)
  • Andre Smith (offensive tackle)
  • Tom Savage (quarterback)
  • Kasim Edebali (linebacker)

Ogbuehi was a long time coming. Honestly, had the Bengals done the right thing and brought in enough competition at offensive tackle then Ogbuehi wouldn’t have even made the team. After Fisher and Cordy Glenn went down with injuries, the Bengals opted to sign Smith off the street and start him over Ogbuehi, which says all you need to know.

Hart wasn’t good. He had so many pre-snap penalties, and his attitude during the ed of the season pretty much started digging the grave for his chances at being on the roster next season. The slim hope he had at staying on the team left when Frank Pollack opted to leave the Bengals staff.

The remaining three were brought in due to injuries. Smith will likely remain on the Bengals radar if injuries hit the offensive line again though.

Likely to stay

  • Alex Redmond (offensive guard) ERFA
  • Matt Lengel (tight end) RFA
  • Adolphus Washington (defensive lineman) RFA
  • Josh Tupou (defensive tackle) ERFA
  • Trey Hopkins (offensive lineman) ERFA
  • Brandon Wilson (safety) ERFA
  • Tony McRae (corner) ERFA

The reason most of these players will be likely to return to at least compete for their jobs is almost solely based on them being restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents. It is very easy for Cincinnati to retain these players on a team friendly contract.

Redmond had his struggles last season, and he was even benched for the final game of the season. He will still be worth whatever affordable contract Cincinnati will be able to get him for, even if he ends up being just a backup.

Lengel, Washington and Tupou have each showed flashes of being competent NFL players. They are all still relatively young, and the Bengals can’t afford to let these guys walk away as it’d cost more to try and replace them with players have a better chance of not being as good or ready to play.

Trey Hopkins is the best player on this list. He really could start at center or right guard next season. He played well in relief for Bill Price in 2018 at center, and a new coach may see that and keep it rolling. At the very least he is a very valuable backup interior lineman.

If McRae is healthy enough to return, he will likely be in Cincinnati’s training camp.