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With Cincinnati overhauling the roster this offseason, especially being active in free agency on the back end of the defense, Kirkpatrick’s contract proved too restricting. He would have had a cap hit of $11.1 million this season, and cutting him saves $8.3 million in salary cap space, while the team will eat $2.8 million in dead money.
The Bengals in the last two weeks have added former Vikings cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander and former Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims.
“Dre was a part of the Bengals’ organization for many years, and displayed passion, energy and competitiveness both on and off the field,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said in a press release. “We appreciate his many contributions to our team and community over the years, and wish him the best moving forward.”
Kirkpatrick started six games in 2019 before going on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in a loss at Baltimore. He appeared in 99 games with 67 starts over his eight seasons and said at the end of last season he looked forward to being a part of turning things around in 2020.
The 30-year-old finished the 2019 season with 33 tackles, four pass deflections, a sack and a fumble recovery. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, when Kirkpatrick was the nearest defender in 2019, he had a minus-2.7 percent catch rate allowed against expectation and he allowed 6.9 yards per target.
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“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything for them to remove me,” Kirkpatrick said on Dec. 30. “I feel like I’ve done everything right. I feel like I was one of the top guys when I was on the field.”
The move seemed to just come down to the money. After signing safety Vonn Bell last week to a three-year, $18 million contract, the Bengals needed to make a decision between Kirkpatrick and Shawn Williams. Cutting Kirkpatrick saves more money, and Williams, a team captain, provides depth in two of three levels of the defense with just a $5 million cap hit.
Kirkpatrick was an outspoken player in the locker room and wellliked by media, to whom he always made himself available. He served as a mentor to young players like Darius Phillips and William Jackson and often spoke of wanting to pass on the knowledge that players before him provided him. He shouldn’t have a difficult time finding a new landing spot with several teams still in the market for cornerbacks.
“To the real Cincinnati fan and my real close friends, (you) guys will be miss(ed),” Kirkpatrick added on Instagram on Tuesday. “Thanks for always showing me love in the city I still call home. No sad time, just time to move on. Love you guy(s) in Cincinnati.”
Cincinnati has shed more than $24 million in cap space the past three weeks with the release of Kirkpatrick, left tackle Cordy Glenn, cornerback B.W. Webb and guard John Miller. According to OvertheCap.com, which still includes Kirkpatrick in the picture, the Bengals have $11.6 million in cap space, but that does not account for the addition of D.J. Reader, whose reported four-year, $53 million contract hasn’t yet been finalized. They likely still need to shed some more cap money. ESPN.com’s Ben Baby reported on Twitter the team should have about $2.7 million in cap space available before Reader is on the books.
The Bengals have not yet announced any of their free agent signings because of coronavirus concerns preventing travel for players and team personnel. The NFL is prohibiting teams from announcing signings until physicals are complete, and it’s unclear when Cincinnati will be able to finalize contracts because of that.