Pittsburgh Steelers fans were hungry for the selection of a cornerback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and the name many circled for their area of interest was Darqueze Dennard, a former teammate of running back Le’Veon Bell’s at Michigan State. Pittsburgh ended up coming out of that round with Ryan Shazier, while Dennard has spent his career as a nickel player.
Dennard is now entering his fifth season, playing under the fifth-year option, which the Bengals elected to pick up in 2016. They made that choice to pick up the option before they ended up drafting cornerback William Jackson III in the first round that year, who has passed Dennard to enter the starting lineup next to Dre Kirkpatrick.
Despite his current situation, he says that he’s not spending much time thinking about his contract situation. “It’s not a thought at all”, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m just focused on football and trying to be the best Darqueze Dennard I can be, be the best football player I can be and help the team win. I mean, I’m not too much worried about contracts. That will figure itself out”.
The fifth-year man has spent a lot of his career slowed by injuries, which have hindered his opportunities to see a bigger role in the defense, but he did seem to clear that hurdle last season, and he ended up playing over 900 snaps, primarily in the slot. He also saw some time as a starter due to injury before the team moved Jackson into that role.
Dennard recorded 85 tackles along with two interceptions, a forced fumble, and two sacks, all of which were career-highs, though that should not be surprising given that it was also by far the most extensive on-field action that he has season in a season.
He suggested that he hears the criticism about his numbers over the years, and admits that his injuries have been a big part of his story so far. “But obviously they’ve seen something and it just so happened I had a solid year last year, played all 16 games and I think I did pretty well”.
Under the fifth-year option, Dennard will actually be making a bit over $8.5 million this season. While Kirkpatrick is playing under a substantial new contract signed last offseason, the fact that Jackson is still under his rookie contract does make that payment more palatable.
Give the Bengals’ situation at cornerback, he is not even sure himself that he would sign an extension with Cincinnati. If he has another strong season as the third cornerback, he should be able to put himself in a position to land a big contract with another team for a starting job.
“That’s something that I think me and my agent and my family will have to sit down and talk about”, he said of talking extension. “But I mean, when that time comes, the time comes. I’m not pressed on it. I’ve got some goals that I have personally that I got to work on, on the football field”.