Geno Atkins is in the final year of his rookie contract (USA Today Sports Images)
The "Shutdown Countdown" is chugging along. In addition to previewing each team, "Shutdown Corner" will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Cincinnati Bengals.
2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $133.93 million (9th-largest adjusted cap number in the NFL in 2013)m
2013 Cap Room Remaining: $17.017 million (5th-most available cap space, as of July 26)
Best Bargain: Geno Atkins, a 2010 fourth-round pick out of Georgia, has developed into one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, posting 100 tackles, including 27 for a loss, with 20 sacks, 39 quarterback hits and six forced fumbles over the two seasons, both of which ended with Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods. Atkins has maximized his rookie contract as his 2013 base salary escalated from $630,000 to $1.423 million, which still makes him one of the best bargains in entire NFL. Among current defensive tackle contracts, 45 are scheduled to earn more cash this season than Atkins, who will hit it big in his contract.
Potential Camp Cap Casualty: The Bengals already released guard Travelle Wharton, who was scheduled to earn $2.675 million in base salary in 2013, the second season of a three-year, $9.75 million contract. Wharton only played a few preseason snaps last August before suffering a season-ending injury. Reserve offensive tackle Anthony Collins played 75 total snaps in 2012 (63 on offense, 12 on special teams) and will be competing with Dennis Roland for the "swing" tackle role. With a non-guaranteed base salary of $1.8 million, Collins is set to earn more than twice as much as Roland, who will count just $620,000 against the Bengals' cap.
Between Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, 2013 second-round pick Margus Hunt and veterans Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry, the Bengals are very deep at the defensive end position. If a team in need of a defensive end — say the Dallas Cowboys — come calling, Geathers or Gilberry could be dealt. Geathers is due $1.8 million in base salary, while Gilberry has a $1.1 million salary (plus $150,000 in sacks incentives) for this season.
Looming Contract Issue: The most important contract issue the Bengals have to address is Atkins, who on a long-term deal, would surely command $8 million or more per season with over $20 million in guaranteed money. The Bengals have plenty of cap space to extend Atkins this year, but will have the option of the franchise tag. If the league-wide cap number remains flat, the defensive tackle tag is projected to be worth $8.477 million next offseason, a far more reasonable price than using a second franchise tag on Johnson.
A second tag on Johnson would cost the Bengals $13.41 million, a 20 percent increase over his 2012 tag amount.
It's an easy decision right now, but the Bengals will have until May 3, 2014 to exercise the fifth-year option in wide receiver A.J. Green's rookie contract. Green has 162 receptions for 2,407 yards and 18 touchdowns in two Pro Bowl seasons and it would be stunning if the Bengals did not exercise that option, which will be worth the amount of the 2014 transition tag and guaranteed for injury only. If the league-wide cap number stays flat, the wide receiver transition tag for 2014 is projected to be worth just over $9 million.
Next offseason will also be the first time that Green and quarterback Andy Dalton are eligible to sign contract extensions.
Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: Keeping both Atkins and Johnson should be very possible as the "Top 51" contracts on the 2014 Bengals currently total $102.6 million in salary cap commitments. The Bengals also have $553,000 in "dead" money, most of which comes from the $500,000 in signing bonus proration from Wharton's contract. With so much cap room that can be carried over from 2013 into 2014, the Bengals are in excellent shape cap-wise moving forward.
Previous salary cap outlooks
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
12. New York Giants
11. Carolina Panthers
10. Washington Redskins
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