With the Super Bowl out of the way, it’s finally time for teams and fans to turn their attention to the off-season ahead. However, for Cincinnati Bengals fans, the off-season seemingly began in their Week 11 loss to Washington Football Team. Since that fateful afternoon when Joe Burrow went down with a Torn ACL, the Bengals have really needed to be in off-season mode. A huge part of this off-season will revolve around building the infrastructure needed for sustained success in the NFL, which is easier said than done. But Burrow only entering year two of his rookie deal provides the Bengals a chance to build up a cache of weapons on both sides of the ball. This team has needs, but they do have some strong internal pieces. There are some Cincinnati Bengals free agents the team needs to have return.
Right now, the Bengals have 28 unrestricted free agents so obviously, not everyone is coming back. However, it is important that the Bengals make sure some of these guys stay in town. No team can afford a complete roster shuffle and the Bengals are no exception. For now, they need to take a hard look at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and figure out what they need to do to get better. Overall, the roster has to improve, but re-signing some key free agents will be important.
Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents Team Needs To Retain
Players and Their Potential Contracts
Josh Bynes, Linebacker
Since becoming the head coach of the Bengals, Zac Taylor has continually preached building a strong culture. What linebacker Josh Bynes lacks in talent, he makes up for with leadership and hard work. Entering his eleventh year, the one-time Super Bowl Champion still looks like he has more to give in the NFL. He’s not a three-down linebacker, but he’s a perfect run stopper for Cincinnati. This past season he finished third on the team in tackles with 99 and also contributed 5.5 tackles for loss. He is solid at worst and has a high floor. With Logan Wilson developing as a core piece, having Bynes’s leadership only makes sense. He’ll be an important piece for their locker room should he return.
Contract: Two years, $5.5 million
Carl Lawson, Edge Rusher
Among the decisions regarding Cincinnati Bengals free agents, this one presents the hardest obstacle. Carl Lawson is probably the second-best pass-rushing option on the table in this year’s free-agent class (Shaq Barrett of the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranks first). While he hasn’t been incredibly productive, he’s disruptive and can be a game-breaker when he gets going. Last year, he led the Bengals with 5.5 sacks which isn’t a great total. Still, the team struggled to complement his pressures and with a more robust defensive line, he could feast. After all, his 32 quarterback hits ranked second to only T.J. Watt last season. The Bengals need to try to find a new contract for Lawson.
Contract: Four years, $78 million
Kevin Huber, Punter
This one seems like a bit of a no-brainer. Though the organization could look to the draft for their new franchise punter, no one has been in Cincinnati longer than Kevin Huber. Picked in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of the University of Cincinnati, he’s been a hometown stalwart. With his roots planted in Cincinnati and with his play still very sharp it isn’t difficult to imagine both sides agreeing to a new deal. In addition, Huber was one of the best punters in the league during the 2020 season. He ranked 10th in the league with 47.2 average yards per punt and his long of 72 yards ranked third. While he is 35-years-old, he still has his bag of tricks and he is worth keeping in town. Huber’s familiarity with special teams coach Darrin Simmons is also a great value for the Bengals franchise.
Contract: Three years, $8.75 million
William Jackson III, Cornerback
In a free agent class void of elite corner talent, the Cincinnati Bengals are in a tricky spot with William Jackson III. The 28-year-old will hit free agency for the first time this off-season and he is seemingly destined for a huge payday. Sure, his 11 pass deflections and one interception last season aren’t that impressive. But he held opponents to a 51.4% catch rate last season, a pretty impressive feat. But the Bengals are already paying Trae Waynes a top corner’s salary, which will make it difficult for the Bengals to give out another expensive contract at that position. Jackson has also had an uneven career up to this point so a large-salary deal has even more risk. It would make a lot of sense for the Bengals to use the franchise tag on Jackson, which would give them at least one more year to make a decision on the talented pass defender.
Contract: Franchise Tagged (One Year, $15,266,000)
Clark Harris, Long Snapper
Like Huber, bringing back Clark Harris seems like an obvious decision on a number of different levels. He has played 13 seasons of football and has spent the last 12 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Over 184 games in Cincinnati, he has never had an unplayable snap and has only missed three games. In fact, he even earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2017 for his consistent play. Due to his familiarity with the team, it only makes sense to keep Harris in town. He is 36-years-old, but a long snapper doesn’t experience the same wear-and-tear of the other positions. It’s hard to imagine Clark and the Bengals won’t work out a new deal.
Contract: Two years, $2.2 million
It will be an interesting off-season for the Bengals as they work to try to build the best team they can. Holding onto these free agents could help in that endeavor.