The 2014 Cincinnati Bengals are in prime salary cap position to stay playoff contenders for the next few years. Not only do they have sizable cap space available (7th most in the NFL), they also have the option to increase that space drastically with a few roster or contract decisions, similar to their in-state rivals. The Bengals might be $22M short of the Browns at face value, but where the Browns have a dozen players with $1M+ in potential cap space available, the Bengals have over twenty. Six of those Bengals could open up over $3M each. Not all are listed below, just the players with larger contracts (movable or immovable) with the greatest impact.
Current 2014 Rule 51 Cap number – $110.3
Dead money $1.0M
Estimated Team Salary Cap- $138.7M ($130M NFL + $8.7M team carryover)
Estimated Cap Room $27.4M
Leon Hall (cap number $8.7M, dead money, $3.6M = cap savings $5.1M) – After 2 Achilles injuries in 3 years, his contract is as good as restructured assuming he shows little to no ill-effects from injury. If this is the case, expect his cap number to be reduced by at least half in 2014 by extending his contract by a couple of years with a sub $9M signing bonus and minimal first year salary.
Andrew Whitworth (cap $6.2M, dead $2M = savings $4.2M) – The Bengals are most likely going to extend Whitworth’s contract before the start of the 2014 season, but how much is still TBD. If they choose to, they have the cap space to front load some of the contract with a lower signing bonus and higher 1st year salary, lessening the hit down the road. It will be interesting to see if they stray from the usual NFL contract standard practice.
Domata Peko ($4.2M, $0 = $4.2M, last year of contract) – With Geno Atkins returning this season, Peko is either going to be renegotiated or released. He is a solid player who eats up blocks. Many teams will be watching this one. He could be good depth if Geno’s recovery time is pushed back.
Jermaine Gresham ($4.8M, $1.2M = $3.6M) – The Bengals have a couple monster contracts coming up, and I highly doubt they will keep two so-called #1 tight ends. He is too inconsistent to command a salary of greater than $5M, although some of that inconsistancy could be QB related. Expect Gresham to be in another uniform.
Reggie Nelson ($4.5M, $1.3 = $3.2M) – Nelson was one of the most coveted safeties when the Bengals signed him a couple of years ago. Despite the Bengals ability to move his contract, I assume it will remain unchanged as he solidified the safety position. If they are happy with him, they could extend it, but at a $4.5M cap number this year and $4.8M next year, he doesn’t have one of those “problem” contracts.
Andre Smith ($5.2M, $2M = $3.2M) – Similar to Nelson above, his 2014 cap number has room to move, but I doubt they do anything until next year at this time when his cap implications approach $7M with a $5.2M potential savings.
Others to watch: Kyle Cook ($2.2M savings, probably gone), BJ Green-Ellis ($2.5M savings, probably stays), Ray Maualuga ($2.7M savings, stays), Carlos Dunlap ($2.2M), Adam Jones ($2.3M), Robert Geathers ($2.7M)
Geno Atkins ($9M, $12M = -$3M) – He was inked late 2013 and isn’t going anywhere. Geno will most likely miss most of the off-season and there is a small possibility that he could be on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list for the first six games of 2014. The Bengals need to prepare for this worst case scenario, but they have a few months before sweating this one out.
AJ Green ($6.3M, $6.3M = $0) – The Bengals will be spending this off-season working on a Green extension. Despite his inconsistencies in big games (and a percentage of this issue comes from the QB), he is one of the top wide receiver talents in the NFL. He will command and deserve to be paid as a top 5 WR.
Dre Kirkpatrick ($2.4M, $4.3M = -$2.0M) – Dre was quickly labeled a bust in 2012 but had a fairly decent 2013. It is in the Bengals’ best interest to keep their first round investment and the $2M in savings.
Despite the big Geno Atkins signing last season, the Bengals are far from finished. Over the next two to three years, they have major decisions on both the contract of a franchise wide receiver in 2014 and quarterback in 2015. The latter is going to be one of the most interesting stories of the 2014 season as Andy Dalton’s play determines the direction of the franchise moving forward. In any case, the Bengals have the cap space and flexibility to overcome these obstacles in the free agent market.
Editors note: The cap numbers are rounded to the nearest $100K, causing the appearance of calculation errors.