CINCINNATI -- How important will the next free-agency period be for the Cincinnati Bengals?
Consider this: Of their current top-51 contracts, 25 will be expiring 12 months from now by the start of the 2016 league year. It means nearly half of the 51 priciest contracts they're currently paying are going to players whose Bengals tenures could, in theory, be over by next March.
Naturally, they will want to re-sign many of them by next offseason. Of those who could be free-agent eligible next summer, four are among the Bengals' 10 largest cap figures for 2015. This week, we're looking at them and others as we count down (with help from ESPN Stats & Information) the Bengals' most expensive 2015 cap values:
10. DE Carlos Dunlap
2015 cap value: $4,900,000
2015 base salary: $3,000,000
2015 bonuses: $300,000 (workout), up to $600,000 (incentives)
How he'll be used in 2015: As the Bengals' returning left defensive end, he'll be asked to build on the eight sacks he had last season. It was the second-highest sack total of his five-year career. If he had not faced so many double-teams, that number could be even higher. The Bengals believe the addition of Michael Johnson this offseason will help Dunlap and other linemen get more favorable pass-rush matchups. This year's salary comes from his 2013 extension.
9. OG Clint Boling
2015 cap value: $5,100,000
2015 base salary: $1,700,000
2015 bonuses: $200,000 (workout), up to $2,700,000 (roster)
How he'll be used in 2015: Boling agreed to a five-year extension earlier this month, making him one of the 11 best-paid left guards in the league. He'll remain at left guard, where he helped spark Cincinnati's strong rushing offense last year. One of the Bengals' top run-blockers, Boling was a key part of Cincinnati's sixth-ranked rushing attack in 2014.
8. LB Vontaze Burfict
2015 cap value: $5,175,000
2015 base salary: 1,050,000
2015 bonuses: $3,150,000 (roster; paid on fifth day of league year), $175,000 (Pro Bowl escalator)
How he'll be used in 2015: The Bengals hope they can use Burfict this year. Once the season begins, he'll be about eight months removed from microfracture surgery to his left knee. One of the more serious procedures an athlete can go through, the operation produces real uncertainty about full recovery. As long as the player is patient throughout the long rehab process, the recovery can be smooth. If not, problems can arise. Regardless of how his recovery goes, Burfict will be eating a large chunk of cap space due to the extension he signed last August.
7. OT Andrew Whitworth
2015 cap value: $6,200,000
2015 base salary: $5,000,000
2015 bonuses: $200,000 (workout)
How he'll be used in 2015: One of the aforementioned soon-to-be free agents, Whitworth's contract ends after this season. Because of his age -- he'll turn 34 by the end of the season -- one has to wonder how much longer the starting left tackle will play. That could impact the length of any forthcoming deal he signs. But based off the way Whitworth played in 2014, it's hard seeing him slowing down anytime soon. He had Pro Football Focus' highest pass-block efficiency rating among offensive tackles. He also didn't allow a sack and gave up just 10 pressures all year.
6. OT Andre Smith
2015 cap value: $6,362,500
2015 base salary: $4,600,000
2015 bonuses: $200,000 (workout), up to $1,000,000 (roster)
How he'll be used in 2015: Another one of the upcoming free agents, Smith will certainly be playing for his next contract this season. Beyond that, the 28-year-old former sixth overall pick also has a lot to prove after appearing in only nine games in 2014 because of injuries. He'll open the year as the starting right tackle.