What Are the Chances of Re-Signing for Each of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 16 Free Agents?

In addition to finding new players in free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals have decisions to make on 16 of their own players with expiring contracts.

CINCINNATI – Even with clearly outlined needs, there always are a lot of questions about which direction the Cincinnati Bengals will go in free agency, both in terms of positions and specific players.

You only have to look back one year to find a jaw-dropping free agency surprise: when the Bengals agreed to terms with tackle Orlando Brown Jr. two days into the legal tampering period.

But who to bring in is only half of the equation. The other side is deciding which players to let go, which is an area where the Bengals have excelled of late.

The organization made two easy calls last month when it extended tenders to two exclusive rights free agents — quarterback Jake Browning and long snapper Cal Adomitis.

Which Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents Will Be Back?

There are 16 decisions remaining.

Let’s take a look at all 16 Bengals who have expiring contracts and gauge the likelihood of the team re-signing each one.

DJ Reader, defensive tackle

The worst-case scenario for Reader, suffering a season-ending quad injury in late December, could work out in the Bengals’ favor. Had Reader made it to free agency healthy, there was little chance the Bengals could have afforded to bring him back.

Reader isn’t expected to be fully healthy until months after free agency. Will a team be willing to bank on his recovery and offer Reader the type of contract his production warrants? If not, the Bengals would be more than happy to bring back one of the team’s top leaders and performers on a shorter, incentive-laden contract.

Whether that happens is basically a coin flip.

Chance of return: 50%

Jonah Williams, offensive tackle

Everyone knows how this story ends. The only question is where.

Whatever the answer, it won’t be Cincinnati.

The first draft pick of the Zac Taylor era, Williams made the switch to right tackle in 2023 and, in turn, made himself a lot of money. But Williams wants to play left tackle, and there should be no shortage of teams vying for his services.

Chance of return: 2%

Chidobe Awuzie, cornerback

Awuzie was everything the Bengals hoped he would be when they signed him to a three-year, $21.8 million contract as part of the 2021 free agency class.

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He was playing the best football of his career in 2022 before tearing his ACL on Halloween, an injury that slowed his start this season and led to Turner’s earning the bulk of the playing time until hitting the rookie wall in December.

Awuzie could land a contract similar to the one he signed with the Bengals in 2021, but it probably won’t be in Cincinnati. The amount of draft capital the Bengals have invested in the secondary is a sure sign of the direction the team is going.

Chance of return: 10%

Tyler Boyd, wide receiver

You can’t overstate Boyd’s value to the Bengals’ rise, as he was one of the players Taylor identified early as a core piece to build around due to his demeanor as much as his production.

But given the huge contracts the Bengals have allotted elsewhere, including the $21.8 million franchise tag for Tee Higgins and the massive extension coming down the tracks for Ja’Marr Chase, there likely isn’t room for a slot receiver who will turn 30 in the middle of next season.

Boyd is far from washed, but these are the types of hard decisions that come with doling out the dollars needed to keep the core intact.

Chance of return: 10%

Tanner Hudson, tight end

With 2023 free agent Irv Smith Jr. struggling from the jump, Hudson was promoted from the practice squad on Nov. 1, three days after Smith lost a fumble inside the San Francisco five-yard line just before halftime.

Hudson appeared in two games earlier in the season as a standard elevation, but he really took off once he joined the 53-man roster and took most of Smith’s snaps from Week 9 on.

Hudson not only finished with season highs in every category, but he surpassed his entire career production in each one with 39 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown.

He has work to do as a blocker, but he’s the third tight end in a row to have a career year playing with Joe Burrow, and the production could be even higher in 2024 with a full season of reps.

Chance of return: 90%

Drew Sample, tight end

Sample didn’t put up career numbers the way Hudson did — although his two touchdowns topped his previous career total of one — but there is no question he played better than he ever has in his five seasons with the team.

The 2019 second-round pick took on a new role by lining up in the backfield on third downs after the Bengals couldn’t find a running back to consistently handle the duties. And while Sample didn’t have huge numbers as a receiver, his 22 catches and 163 yards were the second-highest totals of his career.

MORE: Cincinnati Bengals Free Agency Suggestions 2024 — Sign Trent Brown, DaQuan Jones, Double Down at RB

And, he showed the ability to make an occasional defender miss to gain some yards after the catch (YAC) and to gain first downs. His 173 YAC was just shy of his career high of 198 in 2020 when he had nearly twice as many receptions (40).

The downside to the uptick in production is that there could be more suitors than last year when Sample was coming off of a knee injury and the Bengals were able to re-sign him for $1.2 million.

Chance of return: 85%

Mitch Wilcox, tight end

Are you sensing a theme? The Bengals do not have a tight end under contract for 2024, which is good news for a player such as Wilcox.

Not as good of a receiver as Hudson or as good of a blocker as Sample, Wilcox still played a key role for the Bengals, leading the team in special teams snaps.

The Bengals should have interest in bringing him back, but they first will be looking for outside help.

Chance of return: 66%

Irv Smith Jr., tight end

The low-risk, high-reward signing of Smith was a total bust. It only cost the Bengals $1.3 million.

This is the easiest decision of the 16.

Chance of return: 0%

Josh Tupou, defensive tackle

One of the few players on the roster who pre-dates Taylor’s arrival, Tupou will turn 30 in May. He’s been a quality depth piece at defensive tackle, but he doesn’t feel like a fit regardless of whether the Bengals go with a run-it-back philosophy and re-sign Reader or opt for mass changes on the interior of the line.

Chance of return: 25%

Cody Ford, offensive line

Ford signed a one-year, $1 million contract in March and quickly won the swing tackle job, impressing the coaches with his physicality as soon as the pads went on three days into camp.

Ford appeared in all 17 games, with most of his time coming on special teams, but he was the sixth lineman when the Bengals went heavy. Unless the Bengals sign more than one outside tackle in free agency, re-signing Ford to another affordable deal feels likely.

Chance of return: 80%

Max Scharping, offensive line

Pressed into action in the playoffs in 2022, Max Scharping started repping at center in training camp and earned the right to be Ted Karras’ backup. That meant he didn’t get to play until Karras missed his first snap late in the season finale with the game in hand against the Browns.

Scharping can play all three positions and would be an inexpensive depth piece for the Bengals to re-sign, but he would be third-string at tackle or guard and a backup to Karras again at center. Thus, he could have an interest in looking for a bigger opportunity elsewhere.

Chance of return: 40%

Trenton Irwin, wide receiver

He has Burrow’s trust, and that goes a long way. Irwin is the kind of receiver every team needs — one who can step into any role and not have a debilitating drop in ability.

The Bengals drafted two rookies last year with succession plans in mind, but there is room for Irwin to come back on an affordable one-year deal.

Chance of return: 66%

Trayveon Williams, running back

A member of Taylor’s first draft class in 2019, Williams has never had more than 26 carries in a season. However, he saw his role on special teams expand this year with 294 snaps, the third most on the team.

He knows the system and is a quality depth piece, averaging 5.0 yards per carry for his career. Williams would not cost much to retain, and with Chase Brown being the only sure bet to be back next season, it would make sense for the Bengals to re-sign Williams.

Chance of return: 55%

Akeem Davis-Gaither, linebacker

Had Vonn Bell or Samaje Perine re-signed with the Bengals last year, there’s a good chance Davis-Gaither would have started next to Logan Wilson instead of Germaine Pratt.

Instead, Davis-Gaither was landlocked behind the pair for the fourth time in four years and played a career-low 99 defensive snaps. But he always has played an important role in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s scheme against the Baltimore Ravens, and Lamar Jackson isn’t going anywhere. Davis-Gaither has also played a big role on special teams, ranking among the team leaders yearly.

The Bengals will have interest in bringing him back, possibly on a multi-year deal, but the question will be how much interest he draws from other teams who promise Davis-Gaither a chance to play more than six defensive snaps per game.

Chance of return: 55%

Markus Bailey, linebacker

The third linebacker selected in the Bengals’ seven-player draft class in 2020, Bailey has seen the field even less than Davis-Gaither. He played just 87 defensive snaps combined in 2022-23 after getting on the field for 256 (25%) in 2021.

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Like Davis-Gaither, Bailey has a sizable role on special teams, playing the second-most snaps on the team last year and ranking fourth in 2021 and 2022.

Bailey doesn’t have a lot of tape for other teams to go on, but a team that scouted him highly before the knee injury could view him as an inexpensive option with a high ceiling.

Chance of return: 60%

Joe Bachie, linebacker

Since the Bengals claimed Bachie off of waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles in May 2021, the Michigan State product has been in heavy rotation on special teams while barely playing on defense.

Bachie entered the league as an undrafted college free agent. He had 10 snaps on defense last year and 13 the year before. There shouldn’t be many teams angling to sign him in free agency, and Cincinnati certainly values his production on special teams.

Chance of return: 70%

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