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Should the Bengals re-sign CB Darqueze Dennard?

Dennard is an important part of the Bengals secondary, but are his injury concerns enough to prevent a new deal in Cincinnati?

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After opening free agency with the re-signings of C.J. Uzomah and Bobby Hart, the Bengals have one more important decision to make regarding their own free agents.

Last season, the Bengals exercised the fifth-year option on cornerback Darqueze Dennard’s contract, giving him an extra $8.56 million in salary. Tomorrow, his contract will have officially expired, and the Bengals’ front office needs to act quickly.

Do they re-sign a CB that has not lived up to his first round potential, or do they try to replace some who has been a starter, for all intents and purposes, for the last several years?

While he didn’t become a starter until his third season, the former 24th overall pick has been holding down the slot for most of his Bengals career. When he missed three games to injury in 2018, his replacements were overwhelmed and left gaping holes in the middle of the defense.

Even though Dennard struggles from time to time, he is still improving his game. He was on pace to have a career year statistically when he injured his shoulder late in 2018. With a new defensive coordinator, and one who was a defensive backs coach at that, Dennard might be able to step up his game in 2019.

At 27 years old, Dennard has that perfect balance between age and experience. He is a five-year NFL veteran, but is still young enough to produce value on a multi-year deal. It would be great to have his veteran leadership in a room with so many young prospects behind him.

But Dennard is going to come with some injury concern. He has been a Bengal for five years but has not played a full-16 games season yet. Over the course of his career, Dennard has missed significant time due to ailments in his shoulder (2018 and 2014), ankle (2016), and hamstring (2016). His injury history should lower his price for whoever signs him, whether it be the Bengals or someone else, but based on some of the contracts that have been handed out so far, how much of a discount can Cincinnati expect, if any?

Apart from injury, Dennard struggled at times defending the slot. While the slot is becoming a tough assignment as the NFL evolves, Dennard still has room for improvement there. According to Pro Football Focus, Dennard earned a coverage grade of 60.7.

Ultimately, though, we should expect Dennard back in the Queen City for a few more years. Dennard is going one of the best slot corners remaining on the open market, so it would make no sense to find his replacement there.

As far as a potential internal replacement, the Bengals don’t really have anyone in the pipeline that would be ready to start for Dennard in 2019. Tony McRae and Darius Phillips struggled in Dennard’s absence, and Davontae Harris is too much of an unknown to gamble on.

The Bengals are going to have a hard time drafting a good replacement for him. The 2019 NFL Draft doesn’t offer as many good cornerbacks as it does pass rushers and receivers, so the Bengals may have roll the dice with a late-round pick. They might as well just do that with one they already have. It’s an odd-numbered year anyways, so the Bengals might wait a year to draft a cornerback early if they follow their M.O.

The Bengals have some gaping holes in the roster, so they should address those areas first and work with what they have everywhere else. Dennard is a solid starter, and the Bengals will be able to get him back at a good price given his injury history.

The front office should try to re-sign Dennard and lock in the team’s best slot corner. If the Bengals want to upgrade that position, they should do so later. But for now, the Bengals should stick with what works.