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What’s next for the Bengals’ cornerback group?

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There has been some major moves and departures in the Bengals’ secondary. Are more to come? What are the roles for high-profile players in the days ahead?

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We never thought we’d say this: it’s been a busy first few days for the Cincinnati Bengals in outside free agency. To date, they’ve added what seems to be four new starting/heavy rotational players, while losing a couple of longtime mainstays to new deals and cutting loose two more guys they signed just last year.

The biggest roster turnover in these early days of the new NFL year has occurred in Cincinnati’s secondary. Gone are Darqueze Dennard and B.W. Webb, while a duo or former Vikings defensive backs in Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are in the fold.

(Editor’s note: The most recent weekly episode of The Orange and Black Insider was recorded before the report of the Alexander signing.)

As it currently stands, Waynes and William Jackson III appear to be the boundary guys, with Alexander manning the slot corner role. The two new guys from Minnesota come with a pedigree of tackling to go along with solid cover skills, so Lou Anarumo’s unit should be improved in a number of areas that plagued them in 2019.

The Bengals’ pass defense got better as the year wore on, finishing with a No. 21 ranking in average yards given up through the air per game. Still, getting off of the field on third down and failing to wrap up ball-carriers in critical situations were huge obstacles last year.

Alexander and Waynes, known for their willingness to aid in the run game should help in these regards, along with the addition of defensive tackle D.J. Reader. Still, what lies ahead for some of the veteran names in the group—especially those with high price tags?

What about Dre Kirkpatrick?

Obviously, the additions of Waynes and Alexander, particularly the former, have many wondering if it’s the end of days for No. 27. He carries a big potential savings, as noted below by Over The Cap.

Between the rumblings of change into this offseason, the hefty cap savings by cutting Kirkpatrick and the doling out of well over $100 million in total new contract money to outsiders, including two at corner, it seemed to be the end of days for No. 27. Kirkpatrick also threw out a vaguely-themed Instagram story asking his followers who wanted things out of his locker, prompting further questions.

However, on this week’s Orange and Black Insider, co-host John Sheeran dropped a bomb on us. According to a source he has close to the organization, the team plans to keep Kirkpatrick amid all of these additions.

“I spoke to an unnamed source this afternoon (Wednesday), who has ears within the (Bengals) organization, and he told me with extreme confidence that Dre Kirkpatrick isn’t going anywhere,” Sheeran said on the show. “Not just that he’s not going to be traded, but that he’s not going to be cut, in general.”

Now, some folks may note the timeline of Sheeran’s source making this proclamation on Wednesday before the Mackensie signing. Fair, but others have corroborated the notion in the subsequent days.

Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com noted Kirkpatrick being in the team’s plans going forward, while Dave Lapham joined Lance McCalister on 700 WLW also chiming in on the subject. Apparently, the maximum move they would make is in a release and re-sign of the veteran corner, as Lapham said he “thinks he’s (Kirkpatrick) is in their plans”.

Talk can be cheap, but it appears that Cincinnati is honoring the back-end of a five-year deal Kirkpatrick signed before the 2017 offseason.

What about William Jackson?

The other interesting piece is on the other side of the field. Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie deal and it’s unclear if long-term plans are afoot. Some have been wondering if his own $9.59 million cap hit will come off of the books in the form of a trade.

We get the feeling Cincinnati wants more picks in this year’s draft. And, with the market seemingly cooling on a deal for Andy Dalton, some believe this may be a place they look to for relief, as Jackson would be a trade-and-extend guy.

As we sit here today, that just isn’t likely to happen. There are a few major reasons behind the Bengals staying put here.

Though he’s had some peaks and valleys over the past four years, Jackson is the team’s most talented corner at the moment. The team was dumbstruck with injuries at the position last year, so they need to hang on to all of the high-level (and former highly-picked) talent they can in an effort to be immediately competitive in 2020.

Secondly, the Bengals don’t like to be pigeonholed when it comes to the NFL Draft. They like to take the best player available whenever possible, but because of recent busts and free agency inactivity (2020 notwithstanding, of course), they’ve had their hands forced. Keeping that many high-level cornerbacks opens up their options with a lower number of picks.

The roles for each?

It would seem that Waynes and Jackson are the boundary guys, with Alexander taking the slot position left vacant by Dennard. Though Darius Phillips made some big plays on the outside last year, he’ll probably work inside with the occasional outside assignment.

It will be interesting to note where Kirkpatrick plays with the new additions. Maybe he’s more a reserve and dime package guy, as his forte is on the outside.

However, people tend to forget that Kirkpatrick was once lower on the depth chart pecking order in his early years, sitting behind Terence Newman and Adam Jones. It’s possible he finds effectiveness in a similar way to his six interceptions in 2013-2014 before becoming “the guy”.

This staff also seems to think highly of Tony Brown, whom they signed to a one-year deal recently, as well as giving a deal to Torry McTyer after eschewing to tender him as a restricted free agent. There’s also Winston Rose, who lit up the CFL and is looking to latch on to a spot.

Regardless, as predictable as it is for the Bengals, the top-four spots on the cornerback depth chart are comprised of three former first-round picks (Jackson, Kirkpatrick and Waynes) and a second-rounder (Alexander).

Also on this week’s episode:

  • What are the pros and cons of each of the team’s signings and departures?
  • We rundown the list of comings and goings as of Wednesday evening (March 18).
  • What are the Bengals’ options with Andy Dalton, now that so many veteran quarterback moves have been made?
  • There was a Free Agency Day 1 reaction episode and another for Day 2. Be sure to download those!

Thanks to those of you who tuned in live! Stay safe during this crazy time in the world!

If you’re unable to join us live here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube for every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, the Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Google Play Music apps, our YouTube channel, as well as through Megaphone and, as always, on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!