Kirkpatrick finished the season with 33 tackles, four pass deflections, a sack and a fumble recovery in six starts before his second-quarter injury at Baltimore. With the exception of his rookie year in 2012, Kirkpatrick had appeared in at least 13 games each season but he’s recorded one interception over the past three years. He had nine picks over his first four seasons regularly contributing on defense.
The Bengals could be looking to rebuild the cornerback unit as a whole. They picked up a fifth-year option on William Jackson in April, which means he is under contract through next season, but that bumped his salary from $1.8 million in 2019 to $10 million in 2020, and he seems to be regressing. B.W. Webb just finished the first season of a three-year deal but was graded among the worst of the team’s cornerbacks, as ProFootballFocus.com gave him a 56.2 overall.
Darqueze Dennard is back to free agency after signing a one-year deal last March, and although he proved a big factor especially to the run defense improvement in the second half of the season, it’s unclear what the team has planned for him.
“I’ve done everything as far as blitzing, covering, tackling,” Dennard said in an interview early in December. “I think I’m an all-around football player. I think I’m one of the best football players not only on this team but also in the league. I think if you just turn on the film it speaks for itself.”
Second-year player Darius Phillips, a fifth-round pick in 2018, was perhaps the most impressive in a small sample of time. He finished with a team-high four interceptions while playing just 107 snaps over six games on defense, including a two-pick performance in the finale
Phillips started in place of Jackson in the finale after the Bengals placed Jackson on injured reserve with a re-aggravated shoulder, but he also saw increased playing time the week prior at Miami when he also had an interception.
“He’s one of the guys that overcame a lot of things, coaches challenging him, players challenging him and just going out there, I told him last week in Miami, you’ve got to just go out there and keep playing and you’re going to get a pick,” Kirkpatrick said when asked about Phillips’ progress. “I told him (Sunday), it’s all about, ‘You’re young. They are going to try you. They are going to try to put the ball up there,’ and he was ready. I tip my hat off to him. He’s going to be a hell of a player.”
Phillips reminds Kirkpatrick of himself, he said, and ironically, some believe Phillips could be the new Kirkpatrick if he proves the real deal in a larger body of work.
Kirkpatrick couldn’t imagine not being a part of the plans, or at least he didn’t let on to any thoughts like that Monday, but was mindful that some players under contract for 2020 might not return. When asked what it would be like in the locker room if quarterback Andy Dalton was traded, Kirkpatrick said it would just be “a new beginning.” It could be that way in a lot of other ways, too.
“It’s a business,” Kirkpatrick said. “We all understand the business.”
Kirkpatrick believes the team will be better in 2020 regardless because of the growth displayed at the end of the season. He said he physically “feels great” and plans to focus on his family this offseason but will be ready to get back to work when the time comes.
“We got better toward the end of the season in all phases, and we finally came together on Sunday and that’s the team we should have been all year,” he said. “Things happen. I’ve been around the league a long time and I’ve seen the good and the bad. I know pretty much how we’re going to figure it out and get where we need to be.”