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Ranking the Bengals’ Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents

Who should stay, who should go?
AJ McCarron rolls out against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The past two off-seasons have seen great losses for the Bengals that they were unable to recover from.  After the 2015 season they lost receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.  The pair were the Bengals’ second and third receivers and have had great success with the Falcons and Lions respectively ever since.  Following the 2016 season the Bengals lost their top two offensive linemen in Kevin Zeitler, who signed a lucrative deal with the Browns, and Andrew Whitworth, who had a Pro Bowl season with the Rams this year.  Although there are a couple of big names on the list this season, including Tyler Eifert and Jeremy Hill, most fans have already moved on from them following injury and disappointment in recent seasons.  How do the Bengals 2018 restricted and unrestricted free agents rank?

1. Tyler Eifert – Tight End

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Although Tyler Eifert has been chronically injured, when he has been healthy he has been a force in the Bengals’ offense, second only to AJ Green.  The Bengals should be making other plans at tight end (possibly targeting a pass catching rookie such as South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert in the NFL Draft), but Eifert is worth the risk for the right price.  The Bengals should offer a contract that is structured to reward Eifert for remaining on the active roster and for statistical achievements.  They also need to have a plan for keeping him healthy.  It may be pseudo-science, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt Eifert to give the TB12 program a shot.

2. Chris Smith – Defensive End

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Chris Smith was extremely impressive as a pass rusher in the pre-season last year and although the Bengals still have veteran Carlos Dunlap and NFL leading rookie sack-man Carl Lawson, you can never too many skilled pass rushers on your roster.  Smith was not a major factor for the Bengals this year, only reaching the quarterback three times during the regular season. Personally I’d like to see what new Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin can do with him before letting him hit the open market.

3. Kevin Minter – Linebacker

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The Bengals needed to find help at linebacker last off-season and bringing in Kevin Minter addressed that issue nicely.  The Bengals’ linebacker core was strong when Minter, Vontaze Burfict, and Nick Vigil were all healthy.  If the Bengals can re-sign Minter, the team’s need at the position will be for depth rather than a starter.  Unfortunately, Minter took a discount in year-one with the team attempting to prove his worth.  He will be looking to cash in this off-season, which may not fit the Bengals’ plans.  If he walks, the Bengals will need to find a viable replacement through a high draft pick or free agency.

4. AJ McCarron – Quarterback

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The Bengals will be looking to bring AJ McCarron back as a backup, but McCarron will be looking for a chance to play.  The Bengals would like to keep some continuity at that position, but will not be willing to invest too strongly in it.  If McCarron is offered the opportunity to compete for a job elsewhere, he will be gone so fast that nothing be an AJ McCarron shaped puff of smoke will remain.

5. Andre Smith – Offensive Tackle/Guard

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Andre Smith was a disappointment in his first stint in Cincinnati, a disappointment in Minnesota, and once again a disappointment in his second stint in Cincinnati.  Long story short, he is not the answer.  He could bring value as a backup at both right tackle and guard, but that is about it.  It wouldn’t hurt to keep him around for the right price as long as he is not the expected starter.

6. Jeremy Hill – Running Back

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Jeremy Hill has become the odd man out in a talented Bengal’s backfield.  It would be nice to see Hill return and get some short yardage and goal line work, but it is highly unlikely.  Hill thinks he can still be a lead back in the NFL and in the right system behind the right offensive line he is probably right.  He is still a good player, but no longer a great fit and he certainly doesn’t offer the homerun potential that Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard have.

7. Kevin Huber – Punter

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Kevin Huber played pretty well this year and will likely return in 2018.  In the 2017 preseason Will Monday was impressive, but the Bengals stuck with their veteran at the position which seems to be the way things go in Cincinnati.

8. Cedric Peerman – Running Back

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In the past Cedric Peerman was a valuable special teams asset for the Bengals, but he finished each of the last two seasons on injured reserve.  The Bengals will most likely bring him back and his special teams abilities may earn him a roster spot once again, but don’t be surprised if rookie Brian Hill pushes in front of him on the offensive depth chart.

9. Pat Sims – Defensive Tackle

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Pat Sims took a step back this year at the defensive tackle position and is most likely not in the teams’ long-term plans.  The Bengals are likely to let Sims walk in favor of rookie Ryan Glasgow and the upside he brings.  One would hope that the Bengals are pursuing other options at defensive tackle as well.

10. Russell Bodine – Center

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The most hated man on Bengals Twitter, Russell Bodine, has been a starter since day one in Cincinnati.  The team needs to move on and draft a replacement for Bodine, preferably Ohio State’s Billy Price in the early second round.  Will they go this route?  Who knows.  If they choose to keep Bodine, it will be up to new offensive line coach Frank Pollack figure out how to deal with Bodine’s deficits.

11. Eric Winston – Offensive Tackle

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Eric Winston is a stable backup tackle who has been there for the Bengals over the past few seasons whenever they were in desperate need at the position.  The team cut him earlier this season and it seems unlikely that they would bring him back in 2018.  Andre Smith could fill a similar role and at this point in Winston’s career is a better option.

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