The Bengals have some major decisions to make this offseason. The team could look much different in 2021.
A.J. Green, Carl Lawson, and William Jackson III lead a group of 11 starters that are scheduled to hit free agency. Another 16 players could also test their value on the open market.
Not only do the Bengals need to find a way to improve their team in free agency, but they also have to keep some of the 27 free agents that were on their roster last season.
Free agency begins on Wednesday, March 17.
Cincinnati has built their team through the draft over the years. They usually take a back seat in free agency.
Their conservative approach changed last offseason when they committed over $130 million to seven free agents. It was the third most in the NFL.
Another offseason of spending could help the Bengals get back into playoff contention.
The projected cap for 2021 will be at least $175 million, but it could be more. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the cap since stadiums only had a fraction of the fans that they would normally have at games.
If the 2021 cap is $175 million, then Cincinnati will have nearly $35 million in cap space after $10.79 million was rolled over from 2020.
The Bengals are projected to have the fifth-most cap space in the NFL. Like the other 31 teams, Cincinnati could move on from key veterans to free up more space.
The extra room could allow them to re-sign Carl Lawson, William Jackson III, and address their offensive line in free agency.
Lawson and Jackson will both be at top market value for their positions.
Pro Football Focus is predicting that the Bengals will re-sign Lawson to a four-year, $55 million contract. They also expect Jackson to sign a three-year, $40 million deal with Cincinnati.
The Bengals still need to allocate money to protect Joe Burrow and give him weapons even if they choose to re-sign both Lawson and Jackson.
Cincinnati could free up another $21.7 million by releasing Geno Atkins, Bobby Hart, BJ Finney and Josh Tupou. Here's a breakdown of each player:
Cincinnati is expected to move on from one of their all-time greats this offseason. The team would save $9.6 million if they released Atkins.
He underwent surgery in December to repair a shoulder injury that he suffered in training camp. He was only on the field for 119 defensive snaps this past season, which was a career-low. Atkins appeared in eight games, finishing with one tackle.
The Bengals drafted Atkins in the fourth-round (120th overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft. He’s appeared in 161 career games (134 starts), and is third in team history with 75.5 sacks.
Moving on from him makes a ton of sense, given the money it would save, especially since they signed nose tackle DJ Reader to a four-year, $53 million contract last offseason.
Hart enters the final year of his three-year, $21 million deal. He's been the Bengals’ starting right tackle in each of the past three seasons.
Hart has not lived up to his expectations anchoring the right side of the line, but he did have arguably the best season of his career in 2020.
Hart finished with a 60.8 pass blocking grade according to PFF. He's a serviceable backup tackle, but the Bengals are paying him to be more than that.
Cincinnati would save $5.9 million by cutting Hart.
Finney landed in Cincinnati as part of the Carlos Dunlap trade with Seattle. Once he came to town, he was only on the field for two special teams snaps against the Steelers in Week 10.
Starting center Trey Hopkins suffered a torn ACL in the season finale, but the Bengals can turn to Billy Price if he can't return for the 2021 opener.
Cincinnati should be able to find a more affordable backup center in free agency, which would allow them to move on from Finney and save $3.5 million of cap space.
Tupou opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. As a result, his contract rolled over to 2021.
The defensive tackle is set to make $2.1 million. The team could choose to move on from Tupou to free up a little extra space, although this is less likely than some of their other options.
Tupou appeared in 23 games for Cincinnati, making seven starts in three seasons with the Bengals. He has 36 career tackles and one forced fumble.
Moving on from Finley wouldn’t make a big impact on cap space, but it would show that the team is looking for solid security blanket to backup Burrow.
Finley has not proven he can be a quality backup. Brandon Allen went from the practice squad to starter after Joe Burrow’s injury.
Finley played when Allen was injured, which included the Week 15 win over the Steelers on Monday Night Football. He completed 17-of-32 passes (53.1%) for 164 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions this season.
Cincinnati would save $652,586 by releasing Finley. They could also bring him back to battle for the backup position with Allen or another veteran quarterback.
Other Potential Cuts
The Bengals could also move on from Giovani Bernard, C.J. Uzomah and Xavier Su'a-Filo if they wanted to free up even more space.
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