The Cincinnati Bengals hit the trade deadline at 4-3 after successfully surging out of the bye to beat the San Francisco 49ers, finally starting to look like the Super Bowl contenders many thought they could be.
So the question is simple: Will they make a move?
Traditionally, the Bengals don’t do much at the trade deadline because they like to preserve assets and not sacrifice contention in future years for contention now.
Fans, understandably, though, want to see the team do something — anything, even.
So as the deadline approaches, here’s a quick look at some of the details surrounding the deadline and a Bengals-centric breakdown.
When is the NFL trade deadline?
This year’s trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, with any trades submitted after that point invalid — as Bengals fans probably know, given the AJ McCarron-fax machine-Hue Jackson disaster from a few years back.
The mechanics of the salary cap during a trade
Teams acquiring a player via trade assume the language of the player’s contract, in the current year and beyond.
Any bonuses paid to the player through the first eight weeks of the season by the original team don’t come over, though. Signing bonuses spread over the life of a contract stay with the original team, too.
In addition to this, base salaries are spread throughout the 18 weeks, so the acquiring team will only be paying base salary from Week 9 onward.
Comp picks and one-year deals
The almighty compensatory picks process in Cincinnati is interesting to consider right now. They don’t usually like to sacrifice any picks. But, for example, adding a player who is set to be a free agent in 2024 (say, Commanders star pass-rusher Chase Young), could still net them a pick back of the player later ends up leaving in free agency because it would play into the 2025 compensatory pick process. A little convoluted, but the team can always make picks back if they acquire a half-season rental to push for a Super Bowl.
How much cap space to Bengals have?
As of this writing, the Bengals have roughly $12.7 million in free cap space. They usually like to keep a small chunk of change free for housekeeping items like year-end incentives and if they need to add to the roster later in the season due to injuries. But there are plenty of creative ways to free up cap space, be it contract restructures or something else. And adding a player at the deadline doesn’t necessarily impact next year’s cap much.
Positions of need
The Irv Smith experiment has been a disaster so far. There are cheaper tight ends available who might be able to do more, including Hayden Hurst.
Possible trade target: Colts TE Mo Alie-Cox
He’s on a cheap deal and it isn’t guaranteed into 2024, plus he’s got big upside as a receiver, with just six drops on 100-plus targets over the course of his career so far. A rather cheap trade target.
Possible trade target: Patriots TE Hunter Henry
Henry has been a bit lost in the disaster that is the Patriots offense. Adding a 6’5″ target with huge upside for Joe Burrow on the final year of his deal would be, in a word, ideal.
Possible trade target: Panthers TE Hayden Hurst
He’s been surpassed by others in Carolina and isn’t happy. Word is he’s available. And bringing him back would be cheap this season from a contract standpoint, with the team able to work something out to lessen his cap hit in future years if they want. He’d be an instant impact, considering he already knows the system.
Possible trade target: Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
LSU reunion time? CEH doesn’t get a ton of usage in KC and wouldn’t cost much. He’d be a nice fit as a Mixon change-of-pace option, provided the Chiefs want to deal with a direct rival.
Possible trade target: Colts RB Zack Moss
Moss fell out of favor once Jonathan Taylor returned, but it’s pretty hard not to be impressed with his versatility and the way he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
Possible trade target: Broncos RB Samaje Perine
It’s almost too obvious to not do at this point. Perine left for more chances to carry the ball and absolutely hasn’t gotten it on a miserable team. He’d be an instant impact, too, considering he did so well rotating with Mixon last year.
Possible trade target: Panthers WR Terrace Marshall
This is more of a future-minded move, but Marshall is out of the offense on a bad team and he’s got a good rapport with Burrow given their time together at LSU.
Possible trade target: Commanders DE Chase Young
Young as a half-season rental would cost a nice draft pick, but it’s hard to complain about coughing up a third-round pick for a top-flight player who isn’t under contract beyond this year. Putting him in a rotation or on the same line with Trey Hendrickson wouldn’t be very fair to opposing offenses.
Possible trade target: Jets DE Carl Lawson
Lawson is hardly playing in New York and the contract details, at this point, aren’t that bad. Putting him back in the rotation would provide some impressive depth and efficiency.
This is the year to break the mold and make a move. The Bengals have shrugged off the traditional shell in every other sense, from practice squads to free-agency spending and more.
Frankly, treating draft picks like gold is silly because we often hear the name “Geno Atkins” thrown out. But getting him in the third round was an outlier. Draft picks in the third round and later over the last few years have been all over the place, including some outright disasters.
So swapping out a mystery pick for proven production like a Chase Young, or even getting a known impact like Hayden Hurst back, is a no-brainer. The contract stuff is something a front office that quietly excels in that area is something they can figure out later and simply isn’t an excuse not to seek out improvement as they chase a Super Bowl this year.