CINCINNATI -- Who will the Cincinnati Bengals be by the end of Wednesday?
That's the big question many Bengals fans are wondering as they anxiously await the 4 p.m. ET start of the new league year, and the official kickoff of the free agency period.
Sometime in the hours that follow that kickoff, we should get a clear picture of who will be staying and who will be leaving the team. It's a team fresh off a franchise-best fifth consecutive trip to the postseason. Many who comprised the core of those playoff teams are scheduled to hit the open market this afternoon. When the offseason began, an unprecedented 14 players -- 11 of whom were starters or key rotational contributors -- were to become unrestricted free agents. As of this posting, one of them has re-signed and another is reportedly leaving for presumably more playing time elsewhere.
Brandon Tate (the free agent who is staying) and Emmanuel Lamur (the free agent who is leaving) have been backups in Cincinnati, and it hasn't been surprising to learn of their respective moves. In Tate's case, his re-signing gives the Bengals depth at positions where other free agents could soon be out the door.
Those moves might have been anticipated, but the potential for some unexpected Bengals free agency news remains high.
As we mentioned this week, the Bengals believe they have about $15 million to pay their group of free agents this season. That's definitely not enough for the remaining 12 players who aren't under contract.
So change will come to Cincinnati before the day is over.
Fundamentally, the Bengals still have solid depth, but their starting veteran talent could take a serious hit before the day ends. Safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and cornerback Adam Jones are the players worth watching the most. It's still a toss-up in each case as to whether they re-sign or seek more money or opportunity elsewhere.
Others, like linebacker Vincent Rey, and defensive linemen Brandon Thompson and Wallace Gilberry, seem like possibilities to re-sign. Offensive tackles Andre Smith and Eric Winston, cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Pat Sims appear poised to call somewhere else home.
"Graduate" has been one word that has been used around Paul Brown Stadium to describe this free agency class. Some team officials recognize this as a moment some of their free agents should seize and "graduate" into better situations outside of Cincinnati. Take Sanu, for example. Effectively the Bengals' No. 3 receiver -- and their No. 5 passing option behind tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard -- Sanu should have a larger role with another team. The Bengals' depth handcuffed him, and if Marvin Jones re-signs, Sanu would likely still be low on the depth chart if he returned, too.
Change has already come to Cincinnati in the form of a vastly different coaching staff. More of it will hit the roster today.