Although some are shocked that the Bengals let Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth walk, I for one was not. Many argued that the Bengals had over $43 million in cap space, so they would be able to retain all of their key free agents for the 2017 offseason. I argued heavily against this opinion based off of the Bengals’ philosophy. This is why I expected the Bengals to use some of the 2017 cap space to retain 2018 free agents most notably Vontaze Burfict and Tyler Eifert.
Although fans were upset about losing Zeitler, it would be hard pressed to argue that Zeitler is worth more than Vontaze Burfict or Tyler Eifert. During times when both players have been out, their impact has been severely missed. With Eifert out, the Bengals red zone offense was virtually non-existent. The same could also be said for the Bengals’ run defense or defense in general as well for Burfict.
The Bengals typically always attempt to extend impending free agents a year in advance and this year should be no different. Last year, they extended Giovani Bernard and Shawn Williams during the offseason. Both Tyler and Vontaze have been selected to the Pro Bowl and are expected to command significant money in the near future. The Bengals do not want to risk either player testing the free agent market.
Vontaze Burfict will be looking to be paid adequately as a top NFL linebacker. I project that Burfict could command about $10 million per year in average salary similar to Lavonte David of Tampa Bay. Although he’s missed significant time, Tyler Eifert will not come cheap either. Since the Eagles decided to gift Zach Ertz with an average salary of $8.5 million per year with his extension, Eifert will easily see more or equal to that number. Many injury prone tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed make $9-$10 million per year in average salary, so Eifert will be no different.
With around $24 million in cap left over, I expect the Bengals will attempt to extend one or both players this offseason either before or after the draft. They could also rollover money to 2018 to help sign one of the two players as well. Due to the shock of the past two years of free agency, the Bengals could play it safe and extend both players by slightly inflating their hard cap numbers for this season.