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DJ Reader ‘has been and could be a very important part of our team’

Duke Tobin clearly would love for the Bengals to re-sign DJ Reader as he gets set to enter NFL free agency.

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NFL: DEC 18 Bengals at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway was able to discuss the upcoming offseason with Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel and de facto general manager Duke Tobin.

They discussed a wide range of topics, and eventually, they landed on defensive tackle DJ Reader and his future with the team.

Reader is set to enter NFL free agency while rehabbing from a torn right quad muscle sustained on December 16th in the Bengals’ overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Here’s what Tobin had to say about the Bengals’ defensive captain.

“DJ’s been great for us,” he said. “He’s the defensive Ted Karras. He brings other people along with him. He makes people believe; he holds people accountable. He’s a great leader for us and he’s been a really good player for us. It’s a shame he got hurt again, I know he’s going to attack that rehab and we think he’ll be back and we think he’ll be just as good.

“In terms of financially, what the dollars and what we’re able to pay, that’s all to be determined. Do we want him back, yeah. He’s a good player for us, we want all of our good players back, and he’s not at the end of his career. We’ll see what happens as we go. But he has been and could be a very important part of our team going forward.”

Reader signed a four-year contract in the 2020 offseason and spent almost his entire first season on IR due to a torn left quad muscle. After bouncing back from that injury, Reader was possibly the most important defensive player in the front seven during the Bengal's two deep playoff runs in 2021 and 2022.

Unfortunately, he was injured again late in the season in 2023, and his absence was felt immediately.

The Bengals are heading toward a precarious position when it comes to cap space. Joe Burrow is the highest-paid player in NFL history, and while his contract is structured in a way that is helpful, it’s still a pretty big chunk of the pie. So while the Bengals do have a lot of cap space now, they’re staring down the barrel of not only extending one of the NFL’s top-two wide receivers in Ja’Marr Chase but also want to keep Tee Higgins, a top-10 wide receiver, in stripes as well for longer than just a one-year franchise tag.

If they decide that’s impossible, maybe that money could go toward Reader. Considering his contributions over the last four years and how he frees up everyone playing behind him, Lou Anarumo and Zac Taylor would love to keep him if the price is right.

With so many star players on a team, there’s only enough money for a select few, and the Bengals will have to be more frugal than they were over the last few seasons.

Having said that, Reader’s injury could help keep the nose tackle in Cincinnati if it keeps his price tag lower than it would be if he were healthy, or even if there was a guarantee that he’d be healthy by Week 1. Spotrac projects his market value is in the range of three years and almost $15 million annually. The Bengals could afford Reader at that price, but it remains to be seen if they would rather use that money for something else. We won’t know for a couple more months.

Until then, it’s just conjecture. That and convincing ourselves the Chiefs are going to a Super Bowl only because Burrow was hurt and the Bengals didn’t make the NFL Playoffs.