Starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick became the third first-rounder to leave the Bengals in less than two weeks Tuesday when they released him as head coach Zac Taylor continues to flip the roster.
After reports of agreements surfaced in the first days of free agency two weeks ago, it was no surprise the Bengals moved on from Kirkpatrick to make room for their massive renovation on the defensive side of the ball fueled by a more than $150 million commitment during the new league year.
Tight end Tyler Eifert, the 2013 first-rounder, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who followed him the next season in the first round, both agreed to deals with Jacksonville earlier this month, although Dennard's deal didn't go through.
Kirkpatrick, 30, the 17th pick in the 2012 draft out of Alabama who arrived here via the Carson Palmer trade to Oakland, always brought a high level of passion and energy to the job. During the eight seasons he played in 99 games and started 67 of them (three in the playoffs), he became a media favorite for his intense, thoughtful and time-consuming introspection.
His 2019 season was cut short in the sixth game with a knee injury and marked the first year since 2014 he didn't play at least 774 snaps.
Despite playing just 243 downs that season when Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman played the bulk of snaps on the corner, Kirkpatrick came up with one of the year's biggest plays in a Monday night game.
With 2:50 left in the final Paul Brown Stadium game of the season and snow swirling, the Bengals were hanging on to a 30-28 lead against Denver and quarterback Peyton Manning. They needed a win to clinch a Wild Card berth before heading to Pittsburgh for the season finale the next week and Kirkpatrick secured it when he stepped in front of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 30-yard pick-six. The picture of him showing the ball in the end zone is the cover picture of his Twitter feed.
Kirkpatrick then ended Manning's last shot on another interception with 67 seconds left. Those were two of his 10 career interceptions.
When Hall and Newman moved on, Kirkpatrick emerged and three years ago he signed a five-year extension for about $50 million. It was an unwieldy deal when the Bengals decided to go younger on the corner in free agency, headlined by the three-year, $42 million blockbuster for 27-year-old Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes and a one-year $4 million contract for Vikings slot corner Mackensie Alexander, 26, as well as a deal for back-up Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims. Before free agency the Bengals signed two pro corners in CFL interception leader Winston Rose and former Packer Tony Brown.
Kirkpatrick's release cleared about $8.2 million of salary cap room after the $2.8 million charges for this season (according to overthecap.com) and a pocketful of irony.
Mike Zimmer, the Vikings head coach, was the Bengals defensive coordinator when Cincinnati drafted Kirkpatrick. He brought Kirkpatrick along slowly behind a trio of veteran first-rounders, Newman, Hall and Adam Jones. Waynes, who now replaces Kirkpatrick, was drafted by Zimmer in Minnesota and was mentored and coached by Newman.
"Dre was a part of the Bengals' organization for many years, and displayed passion, energy and competitiveness both on and off the field," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor in Tuesday's new release. "We appreciate his many contributions to our team and community over the years, and wish him the best moving forward."