Three Questions for Conference Championship Losers: Cincinnati Bengals
After two straight AFC North titles, a pair of AFC Championship appearances, and a trip to the Super Bowl, the Bengals will have some significant financial decisions to make.
Cincinnati will have to pay Joe Burrow, and they will have to be very smart everywhere else if they want to sustain their recent success. Paying Burrow means that other players won’t get paid. It also means that Cincinnati has to get very good at cycling new talent through the draft.
So, everything starts with Joe Burrow this offseason.
Does Joe Burrow get a contract extension this offseason?
Joe Burrow said this month that “my plan is to be here my whole career.” Burrow, who has led the Bengals to two AFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl in his two full seasons as the starting quarterback, is eligible for an extension this offseason.
On Monday, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said that the process “starts now internally.”
Ever since Burrow began his ascension last season, the Bengals have been planning on his impending extension. Cincinnati structured contracts last offseason with that in mind. They owned the fourth-most cap space and left money available for the eventual discussion.
Plus, selling the stadium naming rights to Paycor and adding sponsors Altafiber, Allegiant, Kettering Health, and Integrity Express Logistics, among many others, allowed them to put cash into escrow that can help with the amount of guaranteed money it will take to give Burrow his market value.
The Bengals could exercise Burrow’s fifth-year option and kick the can on the extension a year. But that wouldn’t make much sense. Having the clarity of knowing how much Burrow is going to make now rather than later allows the Bengals to prepare for other extensions due soon.
Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase will have to get paid too. Will Burrow’s camp have that in mind during these negotiations? Know the answer to that now; it seems like something the Bengals should value.
What about Jesse Bates III?
Bates and the Bengals have been unable to come to terms on a new contract for two years now. As a result, Bates played on the franchise tag this season, and the end is likely here for Bates and the Bengals.
Cincinnati drafted Dax Hill in the first round last year as an insurance plan, which will likely be their route. Remember, Burrow’s getting an extension, and there are more up for big paydays in the coming years.
Seeing the Bengals cycle players in and out of positions with success through the draft will be a significant marker of their future success once they make Burrow one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in football.
Dax Hill sliding into Bates’ spot seems like a no-brainer.
Who else might follow Bates out of Cincinnati?
Germaine Pratt seems like an ideal candidate to depart this offseason. Pratt, 27, could be viewed as expendable, given the depth and talent of a young linebacker group in Cincinnati.
Pratt said on Sunday night after the loss to the Chiefs that he wanted to be back. But only if the Bengals wanted him back. He was also heard screaming, “this is my last f—–g year,” in a video ranting about Joseph Ossai’s late-game penalty.
The Bengals have already reduced Pratt’s role, making him a two-down linebacker instead of a three-down linebacker.
Eli Apple is another likely Bengal looking for a new home next season. Apple has been good in Cincinnati, but the return of Chidobe Awuzie and the emergence of rookie Cam Taylor-Britt make him expendable.
Joe Mixon signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension in September 2020, but he saw limited action in the AFC Championship. Samaje Perine took 43 of 66 snaps, and Mixon, whose cap hit will be $12.7 million this season, could provide the Bengals cap relief if cut. Per OTC, a post-June 1 cut would result in $2.7 million in dead money but $10.04 million in cap savings.
Von Bell will be another impending free agent that the Bengals have to decide on. Although I would expect Bell back, especially if Bates is gone.