Browns Salary Cap Cincinnati Bengals Edition
The Cincinnati Bengals’ salary cap situation is not dissimilar from the Cleveland Browns’ in that they routinely have among the most cap space in the league on a yearly basis. They opt to carry over cap space, year to year, but for different reasons than the Browns. The Browns, for the most part, lack players to spend that money on and, wisely, don’t throw ridiculous contracts in the faces of their impending free agents just to take money off the books. The Bengals, on the other hand, stockpile cash in order to have money on hand to pay their star players, and there are numerous mouths to feed once 2016 rolls around.
Currently, the Bengals have $17,454,237 in cap space, with $8,697,310 carrying over from 2014. Given that the salary cap has been increasing at a rate of around $10 million a year, that should given the Bengals around $27 million heading into 2016. The most likely recipient of a good chunk of this cash is wide receiver A.J. Green who is an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Green is more than willing to play out the final year of his current contract and is earning $10.1 million this year. But he expects a new deal to come at the end of the season, which is something that will easily increase the team’s positional spending at wide receiver. Currently, the Bengals have $16,168,411 devoted to the position this year, but that may not change in 2016 if they can lock Green down for a similar $10 million per year figure. What happens with Demaryius Thomas’ and Dez Bryant’s situations in the coming days, though, could change things considerably. Either way, the Bengals will have enough cash on hand for whatever they choose to do with Green, whether that means a long-term deal or the franchise tag.
But that isn’t the only financial conundrum staring the Bengals down in 2016. They may have to let both of their starting offensive tackles, Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth, walk away. This is mitigated somewhat by the two tackles the team drafted this year, Cedric Obueghi and Jake Fisher. But other key players will need paydays next year or else the Bengals have to find their replacements elsewhere. These include cornerback Leon Hall, safety Reggie Nelson, linebackers Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur, defensive end Wallace Gilberry, and receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. That’s a lot of money—and a lot of players the Bengals cannot afford to lose. Some will go, but others must stay. Because there is no way that the notoriously stingy—or, to be nice, frugal—Bengals owner Mike Brown is going to spend all of the cash the Bengals have stashed away to keep the band completely together in 2016.
Circling back to 2015, though, and the Bengals are in solid financial shape while at the same time boasting a very well-rounded roster. One thing that does stand out, though, is how much more the Bengals are paying for their defensive players than their offensive players. Their defensive cap commitment this year is $80,187,971, versus $65,574,146 for offense. The Bengals are spending the fifth-highest amount on their defense this year (Cleveland ranks No. 1), while on offense they are spending just under $1 million more than Cleveland. Linebackers and the defensive line make up the majority of Cincinnati’s defensive spending, which makes sense—the Bengals are heavily rotational at both positions, which means they have more defensive linemen and linebackers than most teams as part of their 53-man roster. Defensive end Geno Atkins leads those positions with a $9 million cap hit this year; he’s followed by linebacker Rey Maualuga at $7,137,500.
Something worth noting is quarterback Andy Dalton’s contract. In 2015, Dalton has the Bengals’ third-highest cap charge, at $9.6 million. And though he’s working off of a six-year, $96 million deal, he’ll get nowhere near that amount of money. His $17 million in guarantees basically runs out after this year, and like Colin Kaepernick, the Bengals can opt out of his deal after this season should they so choose. But his cap hit leaps to $13.1 million next year if they keep him around, which means he’s a candidate for a restructured deal, considering the money they are likely to pay Green and the numerous other free agents they would like to re-sign.
The Bengals’ years of being in cap heaven could be coming to a close next year. Either that, or their years of being in roster heaven will have to give way to younger, untested players if they’d rather save money as they have in the past. Luckily, the Bengals have drafted well, but they could be in line to lose a considerable number of both starters and depth players next year, which will put these draft picks to the ultimate test. But, for now, the Bengals are enjoying the best of both worlds in the AFC North—depth, youth and talent that rivals the Baltimore Ravens’ while boasting Browns-level salary cap space. At some point, though, the Bengals will no longer be able to have their cake and eat it, too.