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Predicting what happens with the Bengals’ 2024 free agents

The Bengals have numerous free agents, but who will get a payday? Here’s our early predictions.

@CincyProblems

As of now, the Cincinnati Bengals are scheduled to have 20 free agents this offseason, some of whom are a big part of this squad.

Like every offseason on every team, it’s highly unlikely they are able to re-sign everyone. They have almost $60 million in cap space, so there’s plenty to go around, but there are some players who are expecting a rather large payday.

Here’s a list of 2024 free agents and a prediction of who you’ll see next season.

  • DJ Reader - He has been one of the Bengals' best defensive linemen, especially one of the best interior linemen. Reader is also proven to be a leader in the locker room, in which everybody rallies around him, offensively or defensively. Coach Lou has already expressed his interest in re-signing Reader. He told Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer they would “love to have DJ Reader back.” Reader thinks he has a lot of ball left and says, “I’ll be better than ever.” I’m predicting he’ll be back on a multi-year deal.
  • Tyler Boyd - This will be a very tough signing. The Bengals have all three of their top receivers to think about this offseason. If they can re-sign TB to a short-term, low-money deal, he will be back. If they can’t, Boyd will walk.
  • Chidobe Awuzie - Awuzie was hands down our best coverage cornerback last season but tore his ACL midseason. He had a full recovery and made it back for the start of the season but seemed to have lost a step. After drafting a couple of good, young corners last year, I don’t see the Bengals re-signing Awuzie.
  • Jonah Williams - He is in the same spot as last season. Last offseason, the Bengals had just signed LT Orlando Brown Jr., and it was up to Williams whether he switched to RT or walk. He performed above average on the other side, minus a few games, but I don’t see them re-signing him.
  • Tee Higgins - Again, it’s going to be tough to re-sign all three receivers, but that was the good thing about Burrow’s contract. Burrow constructed it to be team-friendly and expected the Bengals to make room for his weapons. Higgins has already come out and stated the Bengals are his #1 team in free agency, and he wants to stay. There’s a lot of talk about the team franchise tagging Higgins, but I think they find the money and bring him back.
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  • Irv Smith Jr. - Unfortunately, injuries got in the way of Smith, and he ended up underperforming tremendously. I predicted he would come to the Bengals and be a wrecker, but he ended up being a bust. Instead, the Bengals activated Tanner Hudson from the practice squad, and he ended up being one of Jake Browning’s go-to receivers. I don’t expect the Bengals to re-sign Smith.
  • Josh Tupou - He isn’t a big name on the defensive line like Hendrickson or Reader, but he was a solid backup lineman who was able to step up when Reader’s season ended. I expect them to re-sign Tupou to a short-term deal.
  • Max Sharping - Again, not a big name, but he’s on the flip side of Tupou. He’s a good backup on the offensive line, and he shows he’s worthy when he gets the chance. I expect him to be re-signed on a short-term deal.
  • Drew Sample - One of the Bengals' multiple tight ends on the roster, he proved his capabilities as the Bengals' best blocking tight end and was also able to find the end zone a couple of times this season. They will most likely also re-sign him to a short-term deal.
  • Trayveon Williams - He got hurt in training camp but made a full recovery. He still never saw the field a lot, unless it was special teams or the team was up big in a game. Again, I can see the Bengals signing him to maybe a one-year deal and keeping him as a backup, but nothing more than that, especially with Mixon still having a year left on his contract, and the Bengals drafting Chase Brown.
  • AJ McCarron - I like McCarron a lot. The Bengals signed him to the practice squad midseason when Burrow got hurt. They later brought him up to the active roster to back up Browning, and he saw the field a few times when Browning got banged up. With Burrow expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the start of next season, I expect them to re-sign McCarron to be either the third-string QB or a practice squad layer. Unless Browning signs with a new team after a phenomenal half-season shattering a handful of records in just a half-season (he’s currently set to be an ERFA), look for McCarron to be re-signed to a small deal.
  • Joe Bachie - He was hurt most of this season, but he is a good backup linebacker. He’s been with the team since 2021. He reminds me of Logan Wilson as he is very good at hitting the gaps and keeping runners out of the secondary. The Bengals will re-sign him to a short-term deal.
  • Cody Ford - I’m getting a bit repetitive here, but Ford has shown promise on the line as an extra lineman. He made it through cuts last season and was able to get in games for a few plays here and there while not allowing any sacks. They will re-sign him to a short-term deal.
  • Mitchell Wilcox - One of multiple tight ends on the team, he was a decent receiver for Browning, but never really made a splash as he competed with Hudson and Sample. He may be signed back on a one-year deal, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him walk.
  • Akeem Davis-Gaither - He is in the same position as Bachie as a backup linebacker but struggled through injuries this year. Davis-Gaither was able to snag a dozen tackles on the year and is a speedy linebacker, clocking a 4.4 forty-yard dash time. He’s been with Cincinnati since they drafted him in the fourth round in the 2020 draft but is unlikely to have a major role so long as Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are here. Look for ADG to be re-signed to a one-year deal so he can re-enter free agency in 2025.
  • Tanner Hudson - Here’s where some people may disagree with me. I’ve been hearing a lot of people wanting Cincinnati to do what was expected last season and spend a high draft pick on a tight end, but I don’t expect that. I expect them to re-sign Hudson to a multi-year deal as he showed promise as an above-average pass-catching tight end, despite his lack of blocking ability.
  • Trenton Irwin - I was very shocked the Bengals didn’t use him as much as they did last season, but he is a huge fan favorite and continues to shine when he gets the chance. I don’t see the Bengals getting rid of him anytime soon, but I can also see this being one of those surprising moves that fans are stunned by if they don’t re-sign him. But I’m expecting another one-year deal.
  • Cal Adomitis - Another name you don’t hear too often, despite starting every game. He took the spot of legendary long-snapper Clark Harris. You didn’t see any bad snaps for punter Brad Robbins, did you? That means he performed his job successfully. Not a well-known player or position, but you have to be able to do it well. Look for him to be re-signed to a multi-year deal.
  • Markus Bailey - The third and final backup linebacker for the Bengals. Again, there is not much playing time, so he will be re-signed to a short-term deal.
  • Jake Browning - This will be interesting for one of the best California high school quarterbacks ever, holding nine passing records. He then went to play for the Washington Huskies and was PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year and First-team All-PAC-12 in 2016. He went undrafted before signing with the Vikings twice, then later signed with the Bengals. Browning finally got a chance to play when Burrow got injured midseason and was the NFL completion percentage leader for several weeks before finishing second behind Mason Rudolph. Browning clearly showed he is able to be a starter in the NFL. However, the Bengals are a virtual lock to re-sign him since he’s an exclusive rights free agent.

The Bengals have a lot of major roster decisions to make this offseason, but I expect them to re-sign most of the free agents, but only a few to multi-year deals, as they have one of the larger cap spaces in the league.