Cincinnati Bengals 2024 NFL offseason primer: Tons of salary cap space for one of AFC's best teams

Cincinnati Bengals' 2023 season: 9-8, missed playoffs

Overview: The Bengals are a good team that just missed having their quarterback at full strength really at any point in the season. Joe Burrow spend the first chunk of the season playing through a calf injury that he suffered in training camp, and then he was lost for the season after tearing a ligament in his wrist during a Week 11 game against the Ravens. Cincinnati was 5-5 at that point and was never able to fight its way into playoff contention despite some solid play from backup QB Jake Browning. It was a disappointing finish for a team that made the past two AFC championship games and played in a Super Bowl two seasons ago.

Burrow will be back in 2024 and the Bengals have a boatload of salary-cap space, which means they could get back to being atop of the conference with just one offseason. The defense needs a ton of work, but the Bengals are still an extremely talented squad. Cashing in this offseason could get the Bengals back in the race for a Lombardi Trophy.

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)
(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Key free agents

WR Tee Higgins (franchise tagged)
DL D.J. Reader
WR Tyler Boyd
OT Jonah Williams
CB Chidobe Awuzie

Who's in/out? There's a shot they lose Higgins, who got the franchise tag. On Monday, he reportedly asked for a trade out of Cincinnati. Yikes. The Bengals may be able to bring back Boyd on a small deal that makes sense for continuity sake. Reader is coming off a season-ending quad injury, which puts his availability in doubt for the start of the 2024 season. Awuzie took a three-year deal with the Tennessee Titans, according to NFL Network.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins will be one of the most sough-after free agents in the NFL this offseason. Will the Bengals find a way to keep him? (Photo by Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Wide receiver Tee Higgins reportedly wants out of town. (Photo by Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Key free-agent needs

Offensive line
Wide receiver

Why the holes? Cincinnati still hasn’t figured out the interior of their offensive line in a meaningful way. Jonah Williams being a free agent only complicates that matter with the team potentially needing a new right tackle as well. Before the official start of free agency, the Bengals agreed to terms with guard Cody Ford, per NFL Network. Cornerback is a bit thin for the Bengals as well, creating a need to spend or draft one high this offseason. Cincinnati invested in their secondary and defensive line with the reported signing of safety Geno Stone (two years, $15 million) and lineman Sheldon Rankins (two years, $26 million), according to NFL Network reports. The team may look to add pass-catchers this offseason. They started by adding tight end Mike Gesicki (one year, $3,25 million), per NFL Network.

Do they have the money? The Bengals are one of the healthiest teams in the league in terms of the salary cap, projecting for $45.1 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

Potential notable cuts

CB Mike Hilton
LB Germaine Pratt

Why they might be gone: There aren’t really too many cap casualties needed for the Bengals because they’re in good shape, but shelling Hilton and Pratt could be moves they make to start the offseason. None of Pratt's $6.9 million is guaranteed this season and only $1 million of Hilton's $7.5 million is guaranteed. Running back Joe Mixon is gone via trade to Houston; his replacement will reportedly be Zack Moss.

2023 NFLPA report card

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Draft picks

1st round: No. 18
2nd round: No. 49 overall
3rd round: No. 80 overall
4th round
5th round
6th round
6th round: No. 208 (compensatory)
6th round: No. 214 (compensatory)
7th round

Good draft fit

Oregon State OL Taliese Fuaga

Why him? Fuaga’s long-term position in the NFL has yet to be figured out, but he’s an athletic, mean lineman who projects well at guard or tackle. He's the type of player the Bengals need.

What can move the fantasy football needle this offseason?

Let’s just get Joe Burrow’s wrist healed and go have a fantasy feast. When all the key pieces are healthy, Cincinnati’s offense is as dangerous as any in the league. Offensive tackle is a clear need for this team and fantasy managers aren’t about to argue against beefing up Burrow’s line. He must be protected at all costs. Joe Mixon isn’t coming back, but understudy Chase Brown was electric last season and there’s no shortage of available backs in free agency (like ... Zack Moss). With better injury luck, this squad will again be an elite group for fantasy purposes. — Andy Behrens