They no longer have to worry about playing in a contract year.
After having their options picked up Tuesday, the two 2012 first-round picks are assured of getting paid for the 2016 season. They previously only had commitments through this coming season, with the end of their four-year rookie deal expiring next March.
This all means that barring any longer term extensions for the pair that can be agreed to at any time between now and the start of the 2016 season, Kirkpatrick will be getting compensated $7.51 million in 2016, and Zeitler will receive $8.01 million. The money is slotted based upon the position they play.
It makes sense the Bengals ended up offering options to both players, days ahead of Sunday's deadline to inform the NFL whether any fifth-year options would be granted this year.
These moves simply give the Bengals more time to figure out exactly what they'll be paying Kirkpatrick and Zeitler long term, particularly as they try to re-sign many of the 26 free agents they will have next spring.
The options also mean the Bengals expect Kirkpatrick (17th overall pick in 2012) and Zeitler (27th overall pick) to be key contributors for at least another three or four years.
Had neither option been exercised, 2015 would have become a contract year, putting added pressure on the player to prove he deserved a place on the roster. Financially, it might have been a good play because it would have given the Bengals more leverage to pay that non-optioned player at a lower scale when negotiating a long-term deal.
Kirkpatrick appeared the most at risk of the two for running into such a scenario. Unlike Zeitler, he hadn't spent his entire career to this point as a regular starter. There's even some uncertainty this offseason about whether Kirkpatrick will be the starting left boundary cornerback. Last year's first-round pick, Darqueze Dennard, also is competing for starter's reps at the position, and spoke last week about how determined he was to get the job.
On Monday, Kirkpatrick told reporters he anticipated the gig going to him.
"He didn't mean anything bad about it, it's just competition," Kirkpatrick said. "He's in a room with nothing but first-rounders, so everybody thinks the same. If the door's open, you need to take it."
Asked if he was going to shut the door, Kirkpatrick responded: "The door is already shut."
Tuesday's exercising of the option appears a sign the Bengals believe Kirkpatrick will build off his limited reps late last season, relieving the now-departed veteran Terence Newman. If Kirkpatrick can replicate games like his two-interception performance against Peyton Manning, he will have deserved the starter's role and the long-term money that ought to come with it.
Zeitler should expect his long-term deal before actually seeing his option. It will be hard for the Bengals to justify paying an offensive guard more than $8 million in a year, even if that guard is recognized as one of the best young talents at his position.
But he's not making $8 million for one year, let alone as a per-year average.
Left guard Clint Boling, who signed a new five-year deal during free agency in March, will make $5.2 million per season. The most he'll eat in cap space in a given season is $5.75 million; the last year of the deal. Zeitler might make closer to $6 million annually, but $8 million in one year seems like a stretch.