Bengals face some tough decisions with own free agents

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

The Cincinnati Bengals addressed their defense through free agency the last two offseasons. Now, they have a chance to upgrade a few key positions with some of the contracts that are expiring.

Most of the core pieces that played roles in the team’s 2021 success are set to return next season aside from pending free agents like safety Jessie Bates and tight end C.J. Uzomah. The Bengals could use a franchise tag on Bates to lock him up for at least one more year, and coach Zac Taylor indicated there are some players, specifically Bates, the organization will want to keep.

Others like defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and right tackle Riley Reiff were solid before injuries ended their seasons, but the organization needs to decide where they stand for the future as well.

Here’s a look at the current position groups and which players are coming up on free agency.


Still under contract: Joe Burrow, Jake Browning

Free agents: Brandon Allen

Notable: Allen didn’t see much action in 2021 but if another team doesn’t pluck him away, he seems likely to return as Burrow’s backup. The Bengals signed Browning off the practice squad to the offseason roster on Tuesday.


Still under contract: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans, Elijah Holyfield, Trayveon Williams

Free agents: None

Notable: The Bengals could add to this group through the draft to start grooming Mixon’s backup for the future, but otherwise it’s not a big position of need. They signed Holyfield off the practice squad to the offseason roster on Tuesday.


Still under contract: Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, Pooka Williams

Free agents: Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan, Trenton Irwin, Auden Tate, Trent Taylor

Notable: The big three are back for 2022, but Cincinnati will have to sort out the supporting cast. Stanley Morgan was a standout on special teams and Tate has shown promise in the past but was limited by injury this past season. Williams was signed off the practice squad to the offseason roster on Tuesday.


Still under contract: Drew Sample, Thaddeus Moss, Scott Washington

Free agents: C.J. Uzomah, Mitchell Wilcox

Notable: Uzomah is the big one to watch here. The 2015 draft pick has been solid for the Bengals since becoming a starter in 2018 and no one seems to enjoy playing for Cincinnati more, but it’s unclear how big of a priority he will be, especially with other free agent tight ends already showing interest in the Bengals. Drew Sample once was viewed as a potential replacement but he wasn’t used much outside of two tight end packages and in running situations. Thad Moss, if healthy, could also have a role in the future.


Still under contract: Hakeem Adeniji, Jackson Carman, Lamont Gaillard, Trey Hill, Trey Hopkins, Isaiah Prince, D’Ante Smith, Jonah Williams

Free agents: Riley Reiff, Quinton Spain, Fred Johnson

Notable: Riley Reiff and Quinton Spain could be candidates to return. Reiff was fairly consistent in his 12 games before a foot injury sidelined him for the year, as he allowed just four sacks and had one penalty, but he’s 33 years old. Spain was an upgrade at left guard this year. He finished with five sacks allowed and four penalties. Johnson was inactive throughout the playoffs. Gaillard signed from the practice squad to the offseason roster on Tuesday.


Still under contract: Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, Khalid Kareem, Noah Spence, Joseph Ossai, Wyatt Hubert, Tyler Shelvin, Cam Sample

Free agents: Larry Ogunjobi, Josh Tupou, B.J. Hill, Wyatt Ray, Mike Daniels, Zach Kerr

Notable: Ogunjobi was given a prove-it deal to show he could bounce back from a down season with the Browns in 2020, and he was a key part of the improvement in the interior pass rush and run defense. He ended the season with a foot injury in the playoff opener against the Raiders. Hill might have been the most underrated pickup in 2021. He had 7.0 sacks for the year after coming in on a trade that sent Billy Price to the Giants.


Still under contract: Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Markus Bailey, Keandre Jones

Free agents: Jordan Evans, Clay Johnston, Joe Bachie

Notable: Evans and Bachie finished the season on injured reserve. Both were depth pieces and contributors on special teams. Johnston was a late pickup because of injuries.


Still under contract: Chidobe Awuzie, John Brannon, Trayvon Henderson, Mike Hilton, Trae Waynes, Vonn Bell

Free agents: Vernon Hargreaves, Ricardo Allen, Jessie Bates, Eli Apple, Jalen Davis, Tre Flowers, Darius Phillips, Michael Thomas

Notable: Bates is likely to get franchise tagged if the parties can’t come to a long-term deal before March 14, and coach Taylor already indicated those discussions are ongoing. Apple improved late in the season but gave up two touchdowns in the Super Bowl, and the Bengals should be able to upgrade that position. Hargreaves likely hurt his chances of a return when he went out on the field to celebrate Bates’ interception in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, drawing a taunting flag to set the Bengals back 10 yards on their last drive of the half.


Still under contract: Evan McPherson, Drue Chrisman

Free agents: Kevin Huber, Clark Harris

Notable: Huber acknowledged before the Super Bowl that his days with the Bengals might be coming to an end but he still feels like he could keep playing. Cincinnati kept re-signing Chrisman to the practice squad and already signed him to a futures deal, which could be an indication he’s an option to replace Huber. Harris is the oldest Bengals player at 37.

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