I talked yesterday about how the Cincinnati Bengals are looking like they are going to start getting greater contributions from some of their recent draft picks that they have been waiting on. But the team hasn’t forgotten about their foundation players either.
As we head toward the start of the regular season, owner Mike Brown crowbarred open his notoriously unforgiving wallet to heap loads of money on arguably the team’s two most stalwart defensive players, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Atkins in particular had to truck backed up for himself. The six-time Pro Bowler, who turned 30 in March, was just given a four-year contract extension through the 2022 season with a new money value of $65.3 million.
His $16.3 million average annual salary on the new-money portion of his contract is reportedly more than any player 30 years or older that is not a quarterback in NFL history. Dunlap also signed a three-year extension worth $45 million, averaging $15 million per season in the new-money portion of the deal.
In all, the Bengals just threw over $110 million at two players in one afternoon. That might sound out of character for a notoriously stingy franchise, but hammering out these extensions have been a top priority for the team throughout the offseason. Atkins even held out of some spring activities.
The veteran pair of defensive linemen are the top two leading sack producers in Bengals history, and will now have four to five years to continue to add to their leads. They have produced more sacks by any pair of defensive teammates over the past three seasons than any other in the NFL, combining for 58 sacks in that span.
Both were drafted in 2010, Dunlap as a second-round pick and Atkins in the fourth. The latter fell in the draft due to his height, but he helped to change scouts’ understanding of what a player with his frame is capable of doing. His example is partly responsible for Aaron Donald getting drafted so high later on.
Dunlap and Atkins, though, are largely going to be surrounded by young players now, which this year will include a rookie starter in safety Jessie Bates. Others, like third-year performers William Jackson III and Andrew Billings, and second-year Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis, representing a new, emerging young defensive nucleus in Cincinnati, yet still led by the old stalwarts up front.