In the weeks leading up to free agency, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick seemed destined to be released. With his cap hit of $11 million for 2020, his age 31 season, there was a logical case for Kirkpatrick to be a casualty of the inevitable roster reset; especially if the team addressed the cornerback spot in free agency (which they did in signing Trae Waynes AND Mackensie Alexander).
Things may not be as playing out that way.
The final chess piece seems to have been the addition of Alexander, which followed the release of B.W. Webb. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com wrote that Kirkpatrick seems to be sticking around with Waynes and fellow incumbent starter William Jackson.
The 26-year-old Alexander fits the profile the Bengals have been seeking in free agency: an experienced veteran who is heading into his second contract and fifth season as a relatively young player after taking more than 500 snaps last year. They came into free agency sucking wind on corner depth and are now breathing much easier as Waynes moves into one starting role with starters Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson still in the fold and Alexander teaming with Darius Phillips in the slot. That gives them three first-rounders in Kirkpatrick (2012), Waynes (2015) and Jackson (2016) to go with Alexander, a second-rounder out of Clemson in 2016.
Rationally, the Bengals keeping Kirkpatrick with Waynes and Jackson means that someone is riding the bench in Week 1. None of those three have experience playing in the slot, and that role seems to be between Alexander or Phillips at this point.
Having Kirkpatrick as depth for the likes of Waynes (who will take home $20M in cash this year alone) and Jackson would be an ideal situation if Kirkpatrick himself didn’t have such a hefty price tag attached to his name as well. Waynes’ official salary cap hit for this season is exactly $10M, so that adds up to an approximate total of $31M between the three of them.
That number alone would put the Bengals third in the NFL in salary cap space devoted towards cornerbacks, but again, one of them won’t be starting.
The way to justify this is taking the durability concerns of Kirkpatrick and Jackson into account. Kirkpatrick played in just six games last year before he went on the Reserved/Injured list with a knee injury. He’s missed a handful of games during the previous two seasons as well. Jackson dealt with a nagging shoulder injury for most of last season, which has to still be fresh in the minds of the coaching staff.
Waynes had some injury issues in his own right going back to 2018, but having capable bodies at cornerback was such a struggle for Cincinnati last year that you can’t blame them too much for wanting to overcompensate.
Perhaps the front office can get creative and restructure Kirkpatrick’s deal, or maybe they simply let him and Jackson compete for the spot opposite of Waynes. Kirkpatrick has been a left cornerbacks for all of his career, but Waynes at least has experience on both sides of the formation. Pro Football Focus has him with 2,175 snaps at left cornerback and 770 snaps at right cornerback since his rookie season back in 2015.
They’ll have options, because Kirkpatrick’s employment doesn’t seem to be in jeopardy despite the arrival of Waynes or Alexander.