While the Pittsburgh Steelers struck out recently in trying to get one of their most important players under contract beyond the 2018 season—a negotiating window limited by the fact that Le’Veon Bell was under the franchise tag—the Cincinnati Bengals are still hopeful of working out new deals for several of their own prominent pieces.
The two most notable among them are their core starters along the defensive line, Pro Bowlers Geno Atkins at tackle and Carlos Dunlap on the end. These are the two high-priority contracts that they would desperately like to wrap up before the regular season starts to avoid open bidding, as they had to for Dre Kirkpatrick a year ago.
But they are also hoping to hold negotiations with cornerback Darqueze Dennard and tight end Tyler Kroft (yes, you read that correctly), even if they are of secondary importance in comparison to the two stars at the heart of the defense.
Dennard is one case that I have already discussed. A 2014 first-round draft choice, he is entering the final year of his rookie contract after having had his fifth-year option picked up, but he is not going to be a starter on the outside. Those positions belong to Kirkpatrick and third-year William Jackson III.
The former Michigan State Spartan essentially said that he is not too concerned about getting a contract extension, and even questioned whether or not he would want to sign one, preferring instead the opportunity to hit unrestricted free agency in 2019, where he might be able to find a larger role.
As for Kroft, a mid-round selection in 2015, he has risen in prominence due to the physical unreliability of their top target at the tight end position, Tyler Eifert. The Bengals did re-sign the former Pro Bowler to a one-year contract, but he continues to deal with injuries even before the season begins.
Atkins is the biggest piece on the table, here, which was even reflected by the fact that he spent some time keeping away from practices during the spring because of his contract status. One of the top interior defensive pass-rushers in the game, he has been Cincinnati’s best defensive player for several years.
It’s not as though the Bengals don’t have money. According to Over the Cap, they currently have nearly $15 million in cap space available to them, and both Atkins and Dunlap already command a high percentage of the used space (over $9.5 million for the former and $7.3 million for the latter), so there is plenty of room for maneuverability based on contract structure.