The Bengals ended up with 23 veteran free agents this offseason and retained 10 of them. Tight end C.J. Uzomah ended up with the highest salary per year by just barely eclipsing the $6 million mark. Uzomah’s deal in total is worth $18.3 million, and the next contract that a Bengals’ player will sign has a great chance to be much larger than that.
The 2020 offseason for Cincinnati will feature numerous key players potentially hitting the open market, but hopefully, some of the biggest names will be signed by the end of this offseason. Last year they announced extensions for Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap just prior to the start of the regular season. This year they are likely to extend a couple of players prior to kickoff on Week 1 against the Seahawks, but some players are almost certain to get extended.
Here are the top five most likely and least likely players to sign extensions before the season.
5 Most Likely Bengals Extensions
1. Tyler Boyd
The Bengals’ downfall in recent years was largely related to two consecutive offseasons in which they lost two major free agents at the same position. 2017 comes to mind for most when both Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth left; however, it was the loss of Dalton’s weapons that started the collapse of the Bengals offense. The team’s turn for the worst started with the loss of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in 2016. This at least left Andy Dalton with his top receiver A.J. Green, but in 2020, the Bengals face a potentially much worse situation as it is Green and Boyd who could be gone.
Boyd is participating in the offseason programs, which is encouraging. He describes himself as a team player who is looking to do the right thing and whose top priority isn’t money. That could simply be him saying what he thinks he should say, but he went on to tell Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic that he is watching the contracts that other receivers are getting and specifically compared himself Sterling Shepard.
It is good to hear Boyd comparing himself to Shepard rather than Michael Thomas. The three of them were all drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Shepherd’s contract seems reasonable while all indications are that Thomas, who has emerged as a star and Drew Brees’ top target in New Orleans, is expecting a massive second contract.
Shepard received a 4-year $41 million contract from the Giants, which seems very reasonable for Boyd. Even if the Bengals paid a little more, $11-12 million per year would be a great deal for the young receiver coming off his breakout year in 2018, The Bengals should get this done before the season starts and not let Boyd be tempted in the open market.
2. A.J. Green
Everything Green has ever said publicly makes me think thank he is the kind of guy who wants to spend his entire career with one team. He reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald in that way. Both are unusually loyal and humble for NFL wide receivers. It’s also important to remember that he was drafted in the same year as Andy Dalton, so there is likely a sense of loyalty there as well.
Green’s current contract has him averaging $15 million per year. That’s not outlandish. The highest per year average in the league is Odell Beckham Jr who is 4 years younger than Green and averaging $18 million per year.
Green can’t be expecting to be in that ball park. The Bengals should be able to give him a small bump and get him on the books for 4 more years. Getting this done before the season starts is a no-brainer.
3. Nick Vigil
The Bengals are making some much-needed changes to the linebacking corps, by moving on from mainstays Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey. Vigil has received early compliments from the new staff for his ability to get the rest of the defense lined up.
The incumbent will be competing with young players like Germaine Pratt and (hopefully) Malik Jefferson to hold on to his starting position. Vigil shouldn’t cost too much and is definitely a player who has some value as a starter or role player. Locking him in before the season starts would be a smart move.
4. Clayton Fejedelem
Fejedelem is a talented player who can play any safety position and is a big part of what the Bengals do on special teams. When called upon to play a larger role defensively because another player was not available, he has always shined.
In short, Fejedelem has tremendous value. The Bengals should not allow him to hit the open market, and he will be pretty low cost to bring back.
5. Trey Hopkins
Clint Boling, Alex Redmond, Christian Westerman, and Hopkins are all currently sitting on expiring contracts. Boling is obviously the first player you would want back. He has been the best offensive lineman the team has had over the past two seasons, but there are signs that the Bengals could be preparing to move on (more on that later).
Redmond and Westerman are basically polar opposites. Westerman is a player outsiders love, but the team seems to work to keep off the field. (Maybe the previous staff didn’t watch his film). Redmond got the call at right guard after competition with Westerman and Hopkins, and it wasn’t really clear why.
Of the trio, Hopkins has the most versatility having played some tackle and started at center when Price was injured last season. It would make a ton of sense to lock up a versatile backup like Hopkins with what is likely to be a reasonable contract.
5 Least Likely Bengals Extensions
1. Darqueze Dennard
Dennard was expected to be a free agent loss this offseason, but the market did not give him what he was expecting so he came back on a one-year deal.
The Bengals have been preparing to move on from him over the past year. In 2018 they drafted two cornerbacks in Davontae Harris and Darius Phillips. Phillips showed some good things in a limited role as a rookie, but Harris unfortunately spend the year on IR. Both have potential as inside or outside cornerbacks.
The Bengals signed former New York Giant B.W. Webb seemingly to provide a veteran in case Harris or Phillips was not ready to take the job. Now with Dennard’s return, he is another addition to a crowded cornerback room. They also selected Jordan Brown at the end of this year’s draft, just to complicate things even further.
Veterans Tony McRae and KeiVarae Russell are also potentially entering free agency in 2020, so there could be a major youth movement in this group moving forward.
2. Giovani Bernard
Zac Taylor saw first hand last season the importance of having depth in your running back group, so even after drafting Rodney Anderson and Trayveon Williams keeping Bernard would be ideal. Unfortunately, that is probably not the way things will go down.
While Anderson is an ideal backup to Joe Mixon, Williams is an ideal replacement for Bernard. Both Williams and Bernard are excellent as runners and pass catchers, but the thing that sets both apart from their peers is pass protection. Both are great third down backs because they can truly do it all.
Anderson may not be ready to go this season, so it is a good thing that they have all four for now. It could actually be ideal that Anderson essentially gets a redshirt year and slides into the lineup when Bernard leaves following the season. The Bengals will most likely move on from Bernard with their newfound depth at the position.
3. Clint Boling
They really should be looking to bring Boling back, but much like cornerback, the offensive guard position has become bloated with players. Adding veteran John Miller and rookie Michael Jordan seems to indicate that a change could be coming.
Boling’s primary position for the Bengals was left guard. Jordan was previously the left guard playing next to Billy Price at Ohio State and Cordy Glenn moved to left guard during OTAs. This is not a good sign for Boling. He does have versatility, however, and has played tackle in the past.
Hopefully the Bengals look to continue to build on their offensive line by brining Boling back in 2020, but it is doubtful anything will happen before this season.
4. Tyler Eifert
Eifert is back on another one-year deal as everyone in the league seems to be too afraid of his injury-scared history to take a shot on him. Obviously, he will not be extended before the season.
He has been a star when healthy and is likely to shine in the new Bengals offense. If he can stay healthy, he will probably look to get paid while he can, which will mean packing his bags. Keeping a healthy Eifert in the fold long-term would be ideal, but neither party will be looking to make something happen until after the season.
5. Kerry Wynn
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has experience with Wynn and brought him in on a one-year deal likely as a temporary fill in an interior pass rusher. Wynn has some potential, and if he is able to carve out a role for himself, could be brought back for 2020, but that will not happen until after the season.