CINCINNATI — It was time for theTo rebuild their aging defense in 2021 they did something that was unusual for the franchise.
They went shopping.
A club historically hesitant to spend in the open market raided free agency’s shelves, signing players such as defensive tackleCornerback Protective and defensive end . Seven of the 11 defenders that started Super Bowl LVI against them were eliminated. In 2020, they were playing for other NFL clubs.
The 2022 season will see all starters return, but the Bengals are in a difficult spot ahead of the draft. The defense was the third largest part of the NFL's salary caps, with $93.2million allocated by the Bengals last year. According to Roster management system, this is the third highest amount. Cincinnati must draft hard next offseason to recapture the financial flexibility that allowed them to spend big on defense over the past few years.
The conversation, as with everything on this team, involves the quarterback.
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Burrow, who was the top overall draft pick in 2020, lived up to his title as the franchise quarterback. Burrow was the fastest quarterback to be drafted No. 2 even though the Bengals lost in the Super Bowl. 1 to lead his team to a Super Bowl, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Cincinnati has benefited greatly from Burrow, big-play receivers, and Cincinnati's successAnd Operating on their rookie contracts. However, those paychecks could be changed as soon as next offseason when Higgins or Burrow become eligible for new contracts. If Burrow gets paid at the top of the market, his next deal could, as a low estimate, gobble up $30M of Cincinnati’s salary cap.
With the team’s financial dynamics about to change, that puts the cap squeeze on the defense. The draft can be a great way to relieve this pressure by drafting key defensive starters.
The Bengals’ run in nailing their offensive picks the past few years has proved they can.
“I think it’s good any time you can hit on your draft picks, and they’re really good players for you,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said this week. “It certainly helps things to have guys on those younger deals.”
Because the Bengals successfully retooled the current defense in free agency, any moves in next week’s draft won’t carry immediate urgency. Any rookie will find it difficult to start defensive positions, even Cincinnati's No. 31 to ensure.
“That's the good news,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “I don't know that we Have to just go reachAnd say, ‘We have to have this.’”
A few entrenched starters are players Cincinnati drafted. Linebackersand Each had their moments, and stood out safety. was given the team’s franchise tag for this season.
However, the Bengals will require more domestic defenders sooner than expected.
One reason the Bengals were forced to dip into free agency in '20 and ’21 was the failure to replace the team's aging defensive stars —, , — promptly. Duke Tobin, Cincinnati’s de facto general manager, effectively has two draft classes to avoid a similar predicament in future years.
If the Bengals end up paying Burrow, Chase and Higgins what they’re worth, drafting the right players will be pivotal if the Bengals want to remain one of the NFL’s best.