A few years of successfully drafting and developing players have yielded an exceptionally deep Cincinnati Bengals roster. That leaves the team in the extremely enviable position of having to cut very talented players.
Let’s take a look at this year’s draft class and what veterans should be on notice that someone is gunning for their job.
Pick: Myles Murphy – Defensive End – Clemson
On Notice: Cam Sample. Jeff Gunter, Tarell Basham, and Trey Hendrickson
Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson, and Joseph Ossai are sure to make the 2023 Bengals. When you add 1st Round pick Myles Murphy into the mix, you have got four defensive ends locked in. The Bengals will likely keep five on the 53-man roster. They could keep six, but if they do, they would need to have a lot of inside/outside versatility. The most likely candidates are 2021 4th Round pick Cam Sample, 2022 7th Round pick Jeff Gunter, and 2023 free agent acquisition Tarell Basham.
Sample should be on the lookout. He was a big contributor last season, particularly as a run defender on the edge, but Murphy is excellent against the run as well and should cut into his workload. Sample’s saving grace could be his ability to kick inside, but with any luck Zach Carter’s development will squelch that idea.
Gunter was getting a lot of hype last season and got some meaningful reps before his injury. Like Murphy, his quickness makes him valuable on twists and stunts. The defensive end room is more competitive than ever, and the pressure will be on Gunter to show that he belongs.
Basham was a relatively cheap signing and is only on a one-year deal. He seems like the obvious man-out, but they brought him in for a reason. So what does Anarumo see in him? Is there a plan for him, or is he just insurance?
Wait a minute, Coach! Hendrickson! How can you say that? He’s awesome, and you called him a lock in the first paragraph.
To quote Jack Napier in 1989’s Batman, “Think about the future.”
Hendrickson will be on the roster in 2023. In 2024 however, he will be 30 years old and a $17.5 million dollar cap hit. If they cut him before 2024, the cap hit will be only $2.5 million, while the savings will be $15 million. Murphy will be 22 and count for less than $3 million against the cap. That’s a lot of money freed up to pay young offensive stars.
Pick: DJ Turner – Cornerback – Michigan
On Notice: Chidobe Awuzie
I love Awuzie and expect him to bounce back from injury well, but he is entering the final year of his deal, and with Cam Taylor-Britt a year ago and DJ Turner in 2023, the Bengals have spent two consecutive second-round picks on cornerbacks. Just like the selection of safety Dax Hill a year ago sealed Jessie Bates’s fate, selecting another Michigan defensive back this year signals the end of Awuzie’s time in Cincinnati.
The good news for Awuzie is that he will be 29 and have one more chance at a big contract. He was never going to get it in Cincinnati with the impending offensive extensions, but just like Bates this year, I expect Awuzie to make out very well in free agency in 2024.
Pick: Jordan Battle – Safety – Alabama
On Notice: Everybody!
Fans laughed at the national media when they projected that the Bengals would pick a safety. It seemed absurd. We barely talked about the possibility.
Although Dax Hill didn’t fill us with overwhelming confidence in his limited 2022 snaps, the coaching staff seems to believe in him, and for the most part, we’ve gone along with that. (They’ve earned it.) Nick Scott was not a free agent that was widely talked about, but we all got on board with him pretty quickly and went back to watching film of offensive tackles.
Jordan Battle is not an all-star in shorts and t-shirt, like the RAS heroes the Bengals have targeted recently in the secondary, but coaches rave about his top-notch brain. Could he challenge for one of their jobs, or does he just give them the key to unlock Hill’s versatility?
One thing is for certain. This is exactly the type of position Battle, you want to see.
Pick: Charlie Jones aka Chuck Sizzle – Wide Receiver – Purdue via Buffalo by way of Iowa
On Notice: Trent Taylor and Tyler Boyd
Punt returning is not an afterthought when it comes to Charlie Jones. Whatever potential he has on offense, they took him to return punts in 2023. That’s obviously not good for Trent Taylor. To make matters worse, Jones also projects as the backup slot, another of Taylor’s roles.
But what about the starting slot position?
Tyler Boyd is entering the final year of his deal, and so is the much younger Tee Higgins. Add in the looming contract extensions for Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, and it’s easy to see that Boyd should be hearing footsteps.
Pick: Andrei Iosivas – Wide Receiver – Princeton
On Notice: Trenton Irwin, and Stanley Morgan Jr.
I’ll deviate from draft order a bit here to avoid confusion since the Bengals selected another receiver two rounds later.
Let’s just assume for a minute that Andrei Iosivas makes the active roster. Adding Iosivas and Jones to Chase, Higgins, and Boyd gives you five. They may only keep six, but seven is not out of the question. As discussed above, Trent Taylor is likely out because Jones directly infringes on what he does.
If Iosivas is in, that leaves Trenton Irwin and Stanley Morgan Jr. potentially competing for one position.
Now, I know what you are thinking: Coach, is a guy named Trenton really afraid of a kid from Princeton?
New Jersey jokes aside, he probably should be. Irwin has been a valuable fill-in player, but Charlie Jones could usurp that role as the fourth man. Iosivas has more upside and projects as a more impactful special teams player. Irwin is a fantastic blocker, and Joe Burrow loves him, but will that be enough?
Just as I paused for laughter after my sweet geography joke above, I will pause for boos after mentioning Stanley Morgan Jr. as a potential cut.
I know. What an idiot, right?
I get it. I love Morgan too, and I challenge you to find a Bengals’ writer or fan who champions special teams more than I do, but it’s becoming a numbers game at this point. Morgan could definitely find himself on the cutting block.
In the end, I think he makes it, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.
Pick: Chase Brown – Running Back – Illinois
On Notice: I guess Chris Evans… maybe Joe Mixon in a year
This is a tough one because it’s pretty much one for one with Samaje Perine leaving. They aren’t the same player by any means, but there just isn’t a ton of competition for these three or four spots.
The Bengals have given Chris Evans a shot here and there, but then he disappears for the rest of the game. I just don’t think they are as high on him as fans are, and Anthony Mackie not being available, they went out and got Chase Brown. There is a very good chance that the Bengals keep four running backs, but Evans is number four on that list behind Brown, Trayveon Williams, and Joe Mixon at time of print, and he’s only moving down on that list.
So let’s talk about Mixon. He’s not going anywhere, and he never was, but Brown is a talented back with speed and power. He could cut into Mixon’s workload, which hopefully helps both stay fresh. If Brown really shines, maybe the team does actually consider cutting Mixon in a year.
Hey, it could happen.
Pick: Brad Robbins – Punter – Michigan
On Notice: Drue Chrisman
Without a doubt, this is the most obvious competition. They are only keeping one punter. Drue Christman had his shot, but struggled with hang time and really hung the team out to dry in the AFC Championship game. Not to mention that any draft pick used on a punter, is a high pick. Brad Robbins definitely has the upper hand. The training camp competition will either be Chrisman’s redemption song, or his swan song.
Pick: DJ Ivey – Cornerback – Miami
On Notice: Allan George
Depth at cornerback is no longer an issue in Cincinnati. With Awuzie, Taylor-Britt, Turner, and free agent acquisition Sidney Jones, the Bengals have four outside cornerbacks who you could feel comfortable starting. They also have Mike Hilton at slot and will most likely keep Jalen Davis around as his backup. That’s six cornerbacks right there, which is already pushing it.
They have raved about DJ Ivey’s tools and potential, but I can’t see a scenario where both he and Allan George make the team. Special teams ability will likely play a large role in who makes it. Both are practice squad options.
Free Agent: Cody Ford – Offensive Line
On Notice: Hakeem Adeniji
No rookies here, but I felt compelled to mention Hakeem Adeniji and Cody Ford. Ford screams Adeniji replacement. Both have versatility, but Ford is much better at guard than Adeniji, and that it where the Bengals are lacking depth currently. He is also a better scheme fit as the team has transitioned to more gap scheme runs.