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Bengals need to find a way to keep D.J. Reader next season

Reader is among several key Bengals set to hit free agency in 2024.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals
DJ Reader
Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of what happens this season, the Cincinnati Bengals will have some decisions to make going into 2024.

One of those is easy. Extend Ja’Marr Chase. Period. Point-blank.

Another is not all that difficult, although there is some question whether the Bengals will make it happen. Extend D.J. Reader.

OK, so he is going to be 30 years old, and Cincinnati’s tendency is to get them while they are young.

But Reader is one of the top defensive tackles in the game and does not show any signs of letting up. Through the first six games of the season, Reader is on pace for more hurries, stops, and pressures than last year. He already even has a pair of sacks.

More importantly, there is no replacement, suitable or otherwise, waiting in the wings. If the Bengals were to let Reader walk next year, who would take his place? Josh Tupou? Please. Jay Tufele? I don’t think so.

Sure, re-signing Reader would come at a price. Even with a hometown discount, the Bengals would be looking at something akin to a three-year, $30 million dollar deal. But the money is there.

With Tyler Boyd, Jonah Williams, Chidobe Awuzie, and potentially Tee Higgins also hitting free agency next spring, Cincinnati will have a projected cap space for 2024 of $85,700,623. Chase will certainly eat up much of that. But there are still savings to be had.

This could also be the final season for running back Joe Mixon, as the Bengals would save $5,750,000 in cap space by cutting him prior to June 1.

Based on the play of rookie strong safety Jordan Battle, there is a good chance that Nick Scott will not be back, resulting in an additional savings of $2,300,000. Saying goodbye to Jackson Carman would save another $1,675,904.

The only other must-sign for Cincinnati is long-snapper Cal Adomitis. Adomitis has performed admirably since taking over the reins from Clark Harris, who held down the duties from 2009 through the first game of 2022.

Beyond Reader and Adomitis, the Bengals are in pretty good shape when it comes to pending free agents. They have already drafted potential replacements for Boyd, Awuzie, and Higgins. While we would certainly hate to see any or all of them go, their loss would not be unexpected.

Tight ends Drew Sample and Mitchell Wilcox are probably not going to be in high demand on the free-agent market and will probably be back on team-friendly contracts. You would expect Cody Ford to return, especially with the impending loss of right tackle Jonah Williams.

Cincinnati would be smart to re-sign tight end Tanner Hudson, who has shown promise in limited action. Linebackers Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey should also be re-signed to cheap deals, while running back Trayveon Williams makes a nice insurance piece.