CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals will have a little bit more spending room to play with during the 2018 free agency period when it opens up on Wednesday after informing cornerback Adam Jones that they won't be picking up the option on the final year of his contract.
Jones will become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday, which will free up $6.82 million against the cap, which is set at $177.2 million this year.
However, the Bengals' approximate cap space of $42 million is slightly deceiving because they actually view their spending money in free agency as closer to $14.5 million.
They Bengals budget the whole year into account before deciding on what they feel is an appropriate number to spend during free agency. That includes their 11 future draft picks, which will cost about $7 million to sign. The Bengals also factor in a significant amount for incentives built into contracts and for injuries, including both injury settlements and players they could have to sign off the street in case of an in-season injury.
The biggest question is what the Bengals will do with the $10.6 million they rolled over in cap space from last season. This does give the team some flexibility, but they tend to view that money separately. The Bengals typically set aside that money to re-sign their own free agents, and they have two major ones coming up at the end of this season.
Defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are entering the final year of their contracts, as are cornerback Darqueze Dennard and tight end Tyler Kroft, who had nice seasons in 2017. Tight end Tyler Eifert, punter Kevin Huber and center Russell Bodine will be free agents on Wednesday. Knowing that, the Bengals are likely to keep a large chunk of that $10.6 million in reserve.
There are three moves the Bengals could make to free up cap space. Cutting safety George Iloka, who has three years left on his contract, would save $4.4 million against the cap ($1.8 million in dead money). Releasing defensive end Michael Johnson, who is in the final season of his contract, would save $4.9 million ($1.1 million in dead money). Wide receiver Brandon LaFell would be pure savings of $4 million with no dead money involved.
All three moves happening at once would be extremely unlikely. Although the Bengals have seven wide receivers on the roster, including A.J. Green, John Ross, Josh Malone, Cody Core, Alex Erickson and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals like the veteran leadership LaFell brings. He had an inconsistent season but did finish second among the receivers in yards and touchdowns.
Johnson technically started 15 games, but his role was different. He was often moved inside on third down and specific passing situations. Johnson will eventually be replaced by 2017 draft picks Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis, but it's hard to determine if the team would do that this year.
The Bengals went after former Panthers safety Kurt Coleman in free agency, offering him a competitive salary before he signed with the Saints. That indicates they were looking to make an upgrade at that position. If they were to move on from Iloka, it would only be because they signed someone in free agency who could immediately start. With only four safeties on the roster, including Brandon Wilson, who has never taken an NFL snap, it's a position of need.
One other factor at play is the compensatory pick formula, which awards future draft picks based on net free agents lost. The Bengals have been awarded the maximum of four compensatory picks in back-to-back years thanks to careful planning. It's why Jones will be under contract until Wednesday instead of released now, and also why Coleman was a strong possibility for Cincinnati.
Only unrestricted free agents (not released players) factor into the compensatory pick formula. Signing Coleman wouldn't have changed the number of future picks the Bengals could be awarded for the possible loss of players like AJ McCarron, Jones, or Eifert, but signing an unrestricted free agent would. It's not a huge factor, but it is taken into account.