While the Cleveland Browns have spent time this offseason looking to upgrade their secondary, as I wrote about yesterday with the free agent signings of cornerback Kevin Johnson and safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, they are not the only team in the AFC North exploring the same strategy.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to lose two former starters from their secondary in free agency. The Baltimore Ravens have already released a starting safety, declined the option on a former starting cornerback, and are expected to lose another starter, but they still have plenty of depth. The Cincinnati Bengals, in the meantime, are in the process of making changes.
They allowed former first-round pick Darqueze Dennard to leave in free agency, also losing safety Clayton Fejedelem, and let B.W. Webb go. In place of them, they signed Trae Waynes, making him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL, and also added Mackenzie Alexander.
Those are additions to the current starters, a pair of their own former first-round picks in Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III. Now, it should go without saying that they did not sign Waynes to a three-year, $42 million contract to do anything but be a full-time starter.
Both Waynes and Jackson come over from the Minnesota Vikings, the former a first-round draft pick in 2016 and the latter a second-round pick in 2016, so the Bengals are importing a large portion of Minnesota’s starting secondary and bringing it onto their own field.
This is somewhat ironic, given that it is the Browns who have the more significant Vikings connections. Their new head coach is Kevin Stefanski, who though on the offensive side of the ball had been with the Vikings in a variety of roles since 2006. He was most recently their offensive coordinator in 2019. Importantly, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was formerly the Bengals’ defensive coordinator.
Alexander is only being signed to a one-year deal worth $4 million, but it does lead one to wonder about the future of Kirkpatrick, which is what many Bengals bloggers are currently doing.
Entering his ninth season and now at the age of 30, Kirkpatrick is entering the fourth year of a five-year deal that he signed in 2017 with $52.5 million. He has a bas salary of $9.4 million in each of the final two years of the deal, plus $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses. If released, the team would save about $7.5 million in cap space after displacement.