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Predicting the fates of 21 Bengals free agents in 2021

The Bengals should be busy retaining some key players this offseason.

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After Sunday’s monumental battle with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals’ schedule gives them a chance to make some noise in an expanded playoff hunt. The vibe with this team is much different than it was this time last year, when evaluation mode seemed to take center stage during a then-winless season.

Nevertheless, Cincinnati’s front office still has to think about the near future of this team. And with a projected smaller salary cap in store for next year, the impending free agent class becomes a bit trickier to forecast. But that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

To close out the Bengals’ bye week break, we took a look at 21 of the Bengals’ notable impending free agents and made midseason predictions on whether or not they will be brought back in the offseason.

Mackensie Alexander

A surprisingly small market awaited Alexander last offseason and the Bengals took advantage by signing him to a one-year, $4 million contract. Alexander hasn’t exactly been playing great in what is his second-consecutive contract season, so it shouldn’t be hard for the Bengals to retain him. His departure would leave a pretty big hole to be filled; It’d be best for the Bengals to give him another shot in 2021.

Prediction: re-signed

Randy Bullock

The key factor here is Austin Siebert. Why have the Bengals been holding onto a second kicker on their active roster? COVID-19 obviously has something to do with it, but the team could be playing the long game here as well. Siebert is under contract through the 2022 season and is clearly valued by the Bengals in some capacity. This could be how Bullock’s journey with Cincinnati ends.

Prediction: gone

Josh Bynes

The addition of Bynes has clearly been a popular one with the young players on defense. He’s the consummate mentor type at a position that has a prerequisite for leadership. At some point, his effectiveness is going to diminish as his age continues to creep up on him. We’ve already seen signs of that this season. With Logan Wilson representing the future and Germaine Pratt still developing, the position is a bit crowded with youth and Bynes may’ve exceeded his usefulness by the end of 2020.

Prediction: gone

Cethan Carter

Many Bengals fans want a difference-maker at the tight end spot, but that shouldn’t impact whether or not Carter gets brought back. He’s still highly-valued on special teams and will cost next-to-nothing to retain for another season. Even if he doesn’t make the 2021 roster, expect him to be brought back for the offseason.

Prediction: re-signed

Christian Covington

Though he’s been far from an impact player, Covington has kept the defensive tackle room afloat to the best of his ability. He’s still 27 years old until next October, and he won’t cost very much to bring back. The Bengals made a smart move in trading for Covington, and they’d be wise to give him another year with some uncertainty at the position.

Prediction: re-signed

Mike Daniels

We’ve only seen Daniels in four games so far this season as injuries have continued to hamper the second half of his impressive career. How he finishes this season will bear a lot of weight into how the Bengals feel about him in the offseason. Right now, he might be on the outside looking in as the team should want to get younger at the position.

Prediction: gone

Alex Erickson

Erickson has already beaten the odds as an undrafted player. The Bengals rewarded him with a second contract and he’s had a tight grip on the team’s punt-returner position for the past five years. Since 2019 when Zac Taylor took over as head coach, Erickson has averaged a measly 7.14 yards per punt return. He doesn’t make enough of an impact at an already dying position to warrant holding a roster spot. This seems like the final season for him in Cincinnati.

Prediction: gone

Jordan Evans

No one has played more on special teams than Evans this season; he’s active every week despite not having a role on defense because of his work there. That might be reason enough to retain the soon-to-be 26-year old on a small deal.

Prediction: re-signed

A.J. Green

Green has stated numerous times he wants to stay in Cincinnati for his entire career, but this really depends on how Green values himself now. The Bengals have their long-term 1-2 punch at receiver in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. If Green were to take on a lesser role and a new deal that reflects that role, that’s how this partnership can stay intact. These remaining eight games are so critical for how Green will be viewed in the offseason. Another team could throw a bag at him if he finishes the season to the tune of how he’s played in recent weeks. It just doesn’t seem likely that the Bengals will be willing to match any price to keep him here due to his age and Higgins’ quick ascension into the role he used to play.

Prediction: gone

Clark Harris

It’s a bit crazy that Harris is still just 36 years old. It seems he’s been in his mid-30s for the past decade. As long as he’s willing to stick around and continue to be the perfect long-snapper, why go in a different direction?

Prediction: re-signed

Kevin Huber

You can essentially copy and paste the previous paragraph to right here. Just replace “36 years old” to “35 years old” and “perfect long-snapper” to “perfect punter/holder.”

Prediction: re-signed

William Jackson III

We haven’t even seen Trae Waynes play for the Bengals yet, but he could be what decides Jackson’s fate. The Bengals are paying Waynes like a No. 1 cornerback for the next two-and-a-half seasons, so will Jackson want more than Waynes as the Bengals’ actual No. 1 cornerback? Jackson’s market is going to be fascinating. He’s quietly turning 29 next October and his best days are either right now, or simply behind him. Will other teams trust that he can keep up this level of play for the next three years when he enters his 30s? That uncertainty could be why the Bengals can get him back cheaper than they expect.

Prediction: re-signed

Carl Lawson

Next to Jackson, this is the hardest decision for the Bengals to make. Without Lawson, the Bengals’ pass rush has been non-existent this season. That indisputable fact is why the 25-year old edge rusher is building a solid case to get paid in the offseason. The Bengals can either pony up the money to bring him back, or make the bet that Lawson has hit his peak as a good-not-great pass rusher and watch another franchise hand them a high compensatory pick. Sam Hubbard is also a likely extension candidate next Summer too, which may make this decision a bit easier from the Bengals’ point of view.

Prediction: gone

Samaje Perine

The Bengals don’t really need Perine, but every chance they’ve had to let him go, they’ve kept him around. And now he’s actually playing on the field as Joe Mixon continues to recover from his foot injury. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s back next offseason on a next-to-nothing deal.

Prediction: re-signed

Alex Redmond

Even if the Bengals let him walk, Redmond is unlikely to find work elsewhere. He’ll probably be on the team come next August anyways. He has a knack for sticking around.

Prediction: gone (but not for long)

John Ross III

This would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Prediction: gone

LeShaun Sims

With how bad Sims has been this season, it wouldn’t make much sense to bring him back. Nothing more needs to be said.

Prediction: gone

Mike Thomas

As far as training camp stars go, Thomas has lived up to some of the hype. He’s been limited of late as Green and Auden Tate have re-emerged in the passing game, but the team should see what he has to offer next offseason. This will give them four solid receivers to go with whomever they bring in to replace Green, Erickson, and Ross.

Prediction: re-signed

Shawn Williams

It’s been a good run for the former third-round pick, but Williams’ long-term future with the team was sealed when Vonn Bell was signed back in March. Maybe he takes a sizable pay cut and returns on a true backup contract. The safer bet would be the team looking in a younger direction.

Prediction: gone

Xavier Williams

As a reminder: the Bengals will have Renell Wren and Josh Tupou back for 2021 at the defensive tackle position. Williams has been a decent midseason addition as a run defender, but the team should look to add some pass rush at the position.

Prediction: gone

Brandon Wilson

Wilson set a high bar for himself after his 2019 campaign as the NFL’s best kickoff return man. He’s remained a solid returner and should have value as a reserve at safety with Williams projected leave.

Prediction: re-signed

Honorable mentions

Quinton Spain: Spain is still technically on the Bengals’ practice squad, but when he inevitably gets elevated to the active roster, he’ll be set to become a free agent this offseason. There’s an argument that Spain is the best guard on the roster, so it’d be in the Bengals’ best interest to bring him back.

Takkarist McKinley: McKinley won’t be able to play for the Bengals until next week due to COVID-19 protocols. It’s silly to predict what his future is with a team he hasn’t even taken a snap for yet, but if he does indeed bring a spark to the Bengals’ pass rush and Lawson leaves for another team, it’s entirely possible the Bengals retain McKinley to soften the blow of Lawson’s departure.