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4 Bengals make ESPN’s top 100 free agents

The Bengals shouldn’t have too much trouble retaining their best players hitting free agency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2019 league year will begin in less than a week, meaning the Bengals’ 13 unrestricted free agents are set to enter the market. With approximately $50 million in salary cap space to work with, Cincinnati has ample room to retain some of their best players whose contracts are soon to expire.

ESPN released their final rankings of the top 100 free agents yesterday, and four Bengals made their way onto the list, all four being possible candidates to re-sign with Cincinnati.

The highest ranked player on the list will also be the most expensive for whichever team signs him.

49. Darqueze Dennard, CB

Age: 27

A rock-solid slot cornerback is more valuable than you might realize on the open market. Dennard was part of a secondary ranked among the top 10 last season by Pro Football Focus.

While Dennard isn’t the most athletic slot defender in the NFL, he’s developed into one of the more effective players at the position in defending both the run and pass game.

Who Dennard is now is who he was meant to become upon entering the league in 2014: a physical bump-and-run defensive back that can provide a force on the edge when defending the run. Production in the form of pass breakups and interceptions aren’t prevalent for him, but recent defensive schemes for the Bengals’ defense has seen linebackers become the prime targets in the passing game.

The length and total money for Dennard’s deal is harder to project than what his average salary will end up becoming. Tavon Young of the Ravens received a three-year deal that has an average annual salary of $8.6 million, and Dennard can expect a number slightly larger than that.

Scanning down the list a little further, we find two of Bengals’ three tight ends entering unrestricted free agency.

79. Tyler Kroft, TE

Age: 26

A broken foot cost him 11 games last season, but Kroft is only one year removed from a 42-catch, seven-touchdown season for the Bengals in 2017. He also can hold his own as a blocker.

95. Tyler Eifert, TE

Age: 28

Injuries have derailed him for most of the past five seasons, forcing him to miss 52 games (and play in only 28) during that period. But he is an excellent receiver when healthy, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team take a flier on him if he wants to continue his career.

Cincinnati’s two Tylers at tight end each carry their own individual limitations. Kroft is younger and without an injury-prone stigma attached to his name, which is why he’s ranked higher, but he’s a middling athlete who is better suited to be a complimentary player.

Eifert has everything you’d want in a tight end, but can never stay on the field for extensive periods of time, which is why he barely made the list. Had Eifert experienced dealt with far less injury concerns in the early stages of his career, he would’ve likely signed a sizable second contract last offseason and not be on this list at all.

As it happens, C.J. Uzomah seems like the ideal tight end for the Bengals to try and bring back on a multi-year deal, but the 26-year old didn’t make an appearance on the list. On the contrary, the Bengals’ biggest free agent signing of last year did find himself at the bottom rankings.

97. Preston Brown, LB

Age: 26

Playing on a one-year deal with the Bengals, Brown managed to appear in only seven games because of injuries. Now he’s back on the market, hoping to convince a team to sign a competent, if largely unknown, starting-caliber player.

Brown was 2018’s example of the classic free agent signing by the Bengals, and what they received was about what they paid for. Having only played 375 defensive snaps, Brown dealt with injuries that limited him even more than his lack of physical ability did.

Still, relative to his peers at the linebacker position, Brown provided some form of value when he was on the field, and that could be reflected in the coming weeks if the team decides to offer him another contract.

For Cincinnati, it would be best if the deal represented him as a backup instead of an unquestioned starter, as it’s unlikely that others teams in the market for his services see him as anything more than a role player.