Among them are starting tight end Reggie Kelly, starting left guard Eric Steinbach, starting defensive end Justin Smith, starting cornerback Tory James, safety Kevin Kaesviharn and third-down back Kenny Watson.
"I don't know what the future is going to hold," said Kelly, who started every game. "You never know. Either way, I am thankful to God for the opportunity to play on this team four years: great owner, great coach, some great teammates. I really like this place, my wife she likes it here, as well. I'm excited either way, whether I am here or somewhere else. If I leave, I give them the peace sign and ride off into the sunset."
The Bengals' first-round pick in 2001, Smith made his 91st consecutive start Sunday and he finished 2006 as the defensive line's leading tackler for the fifth consecutive season. Smith had a half sack Sunday to raise his season total to 7.5, second most on the team behind Robert Geathers.
"I haven't even thought about it," Smith said. "It's a long process. I still haven't digested this (loss) yet." Moments later, he expressed a desire to remain with the Bengals and his appreciation for the opportunity to play in Cincinnati.
Steinbach might be the odd-man out on the offensive line, where the Bengals signed Levi Jones, Willie Anderson and Bobbie Williams to long-term deals.
|OG Eric Steinbach (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)|
The Bengals signed James to a four-year contract in 2003, and he started all 65 games at the position during that time. The 33-year-old, who earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2004, will be entering his 12th pro season in 2007.
In the first quarter Sunday, James intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It was his fourth interception this season and 21st with the Bengals. But James was also beaten on the game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in overtime.
"I just play, man," James said when asked for his thoughts about the future. "I don't make any decisions like that. That's all I do. So I don't know."
Quarterback Carson Palmer lobbied after the game for the team to re-sign Kelly and third-down tailback Kenny Watson.
Kaesviharn and Kelly are key players who unselfishly do whatever is asked. Watson is likely to return. Backup tight end Tony Stewart and linebacker Marcus Wilkins are important special teams players. Steinbach is likely to leave and be replaced at left guard by Andrew Whitworth. Smith is a big question mark; he'll command a big salary but is the type of player Bengals president Mike Brown doesn't mind paying -- he plays every down.