The Cincinnati Bengals enter this off-season with a long list of transactions to be completed. With plenty of salary cap space and a roster with few impending free agents, the Bengals will be looking to add pieces to a developing roster rather than cut costs with those players already on the lineup.
However, if the Bengals want to be an intelligent franchise moving forward, they must continue to evaluate every aspect of the whole organization, regardless of what is considered a priority need. Of course, concentrating on re-signing Andre Smith and Michael Johnson will be vital to determine the success of this off-season, but making prudent decisions elsewhere will always be beneficial.
One prudent decision could involve starting center Kyle Cook. Cook is under contract and will be until 2016. He was signed to a five -year, $15.8 million contract back in 2011. With a signing bonus of $3.2 million as part of a guaranteed $5 million on the deal, Cook will be owed just $2.5 million per season over the next three years. That is a very reasonable rate for a player of his caliber, but because so little of the money is guaranteed, the Bengals could consider releasing the veteran this off-season. His salary is worthy of his skills, but it might not be worth of his value to the team in its current form.
Cook missed most of the season through injury and even though he returned late in the year in time to start for the playoffs, the performances of rookie Trevor Robinson in his place may have made him expendable. Robinson wasn’t exceptionable as a rookie, but he showed the potential to be a starter next year and maybe even a star in the future. The difference between Robinson and Cook on the field during the season was slim, but the difference between their cap hits for the coming years is not. As an undrafted free agent, Robinson makes less than $400,00 per season. The $2 million+ they would save by releasing Cook could be more valuable than his veteran experience over Robinson.
Even though the Bengals have plenty of cap space, an extra $2 million per year could be the difference between signing Andre Smith and Michael Johnson before they hit free agency or having to let them hit the open market. Much of the Bengals’ cap space is free right now officially, but it is also reserved for the future long-term contracts that must be given to Geno Atkins, AJ Green and potentially a few more of the team’s youngsters.
Not only does releasing Cook make financial sense, it could also give Robinson the vote of confidence ahead of this off-season that would allow his development to flourish. If Robinson enters the off-season unsure of his status, he may not be fully focused on winning the job. If he knows he is the starter, then he has a goal in mind. It’s not like Cook’s veteran experience or leadership is desperately needed. Travelle Wharton will add an experienced figure to the offensive line room next year when he returns from injury, while Kevin Zeitler has taken to the league as if he had been playing in it for 10 years. Andrew Whitworth definitely remains a leader for the unit while Smith will enter his fifth season should he return in free agency.
A successful off-season isn’t just about sorting through your top priorities. It’s just as important to take advantage of every opportunity to improve and explore every option available. Cutting Cook is definitely an option that could improve the team overall.