The closer free agency gets, the more a potential plan becomes unveiled for the Bengals’ offensive line.
Rumblings are indicating that Trey Hopkins’ days in Cincinnati are numbered. The 29-year old center has one year left on his contract and is scheduled to count for a little over $7 million against the cap this year.
Hopkins is coming off a rough season where it took him most of the year to regain his form after tearing his ACL at the end of the 2020 season. While he did improve as the season progressed, it doesn’t seem like the team values him at his current price and is looking for a long-term alternative.
Cutting Hopkins would not only save the club $6 million in cap space, it would open the door for them to pursue the center market in free agency. Per ProFootballNetwork insider Aaron Wilson, the Bengals are one of the teams expected to have “serious interest” in players such as Ryan Jensen and Bradley Bozeman:
League sources characterized it as a “robust market” for elite free agent centers, especially the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl blocker Ryan Jensen and the Baltimore Ravens’ Bradley Bozeman, with both players expected to land hefty contracts.
The Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and others are expected to have serious interest in those centers, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
This report backs what Wilson wrote last month about the Bengals having interest in Bozeman and Adam Jones claiming Jensen to the Bengals is “almost a done deal.” There’s smoke, and then there’s this.
What would a Bozeman or Jensen deal look like? The top center contract belongs to Frank Ragnow of the Detroit Lions, who makes $13.5 million a year. Corey Linsley was the top center to get paid last free agency as he netted $12.5 million per year from the Los Angeles Chargers.
Bozeman and Jensen may not top that, but anywhere between a $11-13 million average annual is a reasonable expectation for the next center to get paid.
The Bengals have topped that figure with other recent contracts, but never to an offensive linemen. Not even Andrew Whitworth crossed the $10 million AAV threshold while he was in Cincinnati. It would be an unprecedented transaction, but there’s never been a better time for them to buck this trend.
Legal tampering for NFL free agency begins March 14th. Any news should become more and more definite as we inch closer to next week.