Updated: 5:50 p.m.
NFL free agency begins a week from Friday when teams are officially allowed to begin talking to free agents from other clubs but are forbidden from signing players until 4 p.m. the following Monday.
Meanwhile, the Bengals were informed at about 5:30 p.m. Friday that the official salary cap number for 2014 is $133 million, a $10 million leap from last season and $7 million more than the December estimate of $126 million.
Last year the Bengals spent the third most cash in the league when they re-upped 14 of their own free agents with about $139 million. The Bengals don't have nearly as many this year with right end Michael Johnson and left tackle Anthony Collins the lone starters without a contract.
But, in addition to the representatives of Johnson and Collins, it's believed they've also talked to pretty much all the agents of the players heading into free agency or are going into the final year of their deals. Given that the Bengals budget about $15 million in tenders, injury pad, and draft picks, that looks to leave them with about $12 million with which to work.
That may go rather rapidly, given the list of players looking at extensions with their contracts up after this season. They range from the marquee names of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton on offense to veteran defensive lineman Domata Peko working on his second deal to Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict on his rookie contract for an undrafted free agent.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has expressed optimism that Johnson can get re-signed after they were able to retain all six starters and regulars on defense qualifying for free agency. He's also said they want to re-sign Collins, but with huge extensions looming, it's unclear if they can keep both. The good news is their cap went up. The bad news is went up for everybody else looking for a right end.
It does seem clear that they'll tender restricted free agent wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Dane Sanzenbacher and linebacker Vinny Rey at a total of about $5 million if they can't reach multi-year deals before March 11.
They also seem interested in re-signing backup wide receiver Brandon Tate, their kick and punt returner for the last three seasons, as well as backup center-guard Mike Pollak. Safety Taylor Mays and cornerback Brandon Ghee are also up and it remains to be seen where they fit at positions that are deemed to be deep in the draft.