The Bengals made their first of what promises to be many moves on the offensive line this offseason Friday when they tendered a one-year contract to veteran guard-center Trey Hopkins after he started at three different spots last season as the club prepares for Monday’s start of free agency.
Other book-keeping maneuvers Friday included tendering exclusive-rights offers to players that can’t leave via free agency since they are three-year players: starting right guard Alex Redmond, special teams staple Brandon Wilson, back-up slot cornerback Tony McRae and back-up nose tackle Josh Tupou.
With the Bengals able to begin making calls to reps of free agents on other teams at noon Monday, they designated Hopkins a restricted free agent. He has until April 19 to find another deal and if the Bengals decide not to match they’d get a draft pick as compensation matching Hopkins’ own draft round. Since Hopkins was an undrafted free agent, they offered him enough to get a second-round pick in return.
Hopkins, 26, burst into Bengaldom in 2014 undrafted out of Texas and shined in the preseason before suffering a devastating broken leg in the third game. He worked his way back on the practice squad before playing one game in 2016 and then starting 12 games at right guard in 2017. After Redmond won a training camp derby at right guard last season, Hopkins, regarded as one of the smartest guys on the line, became the valuable sixth man.
When rookie center Billy Price got hurt early in the season’s second game, he moved to center for seven games, when they were 4-3. When Price came back, that week Redmond didn’t play and Hopkins did. When left guard Clint Boling had to move to left tackle in place of the injured Cordy Glenn against Denver and the Chargers, Hopkins moved into left guard. The Bengals wanted to make sure they had that versatility to begin this season.
But other linemen figure to follow, either in free agency of the draft. The Bengals have some room under the salary cap to spend at about $20-25 million after putting aside estimated amounts for draft picks ($10 million), injuries ($5 million), dead money ($2 million, much of it for two players released in the last training camp in safety George Iloka and wide receiver Brandon LaFell) and incentives ($2 million). The second-round tenders for restricted free agents, which they gave Hopkins, has been reported on NFL.com as $3.095 million.
The Bengals are also mulling re-signing some of their own free agents, such starting right tackle Bobby Hart and starting slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard, as well as their three top tight ends, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. After he played just four games because of an ankle injury last year and 14 games after he went to the 2015 Pro Bowl, Eifert is in the same boat as last year coming off an injury into free agency. The Bengals have to decide if they’ll again offer him an incentive-laden one-year deal.
There are no mysteries when it comes to needs. Glenn is their only tackle under contract, they have two NFL catches under contract at tight end and the statuses of their best linebacker (injury-plagued Vontaze Burfict) and most experienced linebacker (free-agent Vincent Rey) are yet to be determined.
But one thing they do know is the Bengals’ two starting wide receivers, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, are headed into their contract years, so they figure to also be on the radar before Opening Day.