Dre Heads Out With Head Up

Dre Kirkpatrick: mutual respect.
Dre Kirkpatrick: mutual respect.

Like Dre Kirkpatrick's career in stripes, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's phone call that ended it on Tuesday morning was rooted in mutual respect.

"At the end of the day, they showed me a lot of respect. They called me. They could have called my agent," Kirkpatrick said a couple of hours later. "He was very generous about it.

"I was just happy to get the phone call from them instead of hearing about it from TV or something. That was a sign of respect. I was able to do what I wanted to do with it. I appreciate everything they've done for me. Marvin (Lewis). Mr. (Mike) Brown and his family. As far as giving me the opportunity."

After eight seasons, 99 games, 67 starts (three of them in the postseason), a first-round selection, a 101-yard interception that somehow wasn't a touchdown and the pick that won a Wild Card berth that was, Kirkpatrick was unsurprisingly but suddenly a former Bengal in between jobs.

"Right now, I think the whole world is sitting back. Everybody is sitting back," Kirkpatrick said from his suburban Cincinnati home in Indian Hill. "I'm just relaxing. Watching TV. I'm not worried about getting a job. It's all about timing. I'll play it out and see what's best for me and my family."

Right now that means staying inside with his girlfriend, a Cincinnatian, and their one-year-old daughter who was born here. But even after the pandemic, he plans on staying.

"Until I find otherwise," he said. "I think I'll settle here for a few years. I'm not in a rush to leave. I can go play somewhere and come back here. That's where she's from. I've spent eight years of my life here. That's a big step to not have to move around."

Like he did during his run at Paul Brown Stadium when his accessibility made him a media go-to-guy standing in front of his locker, on Tuesday he was candid when asked who how he'd characterize his Bengals career.

"I felt it was pretty good," Kirkpatrick said. "I felt like there were lot (more) things I could have achieved, but injuries early on in my career kind of hindered me, kind of slowed me down. Then I felt like I was up on the pace. I thought I was up on the pace last year when I got hurt."

Kirkpatrick did ask Taylor why they didn't release him until Tuesday if they knew that was the plan.

"He gave me a reasonable answer," Kirkpatrick said. "They were trying to get some things in place before they could do it."

His knee injury in the sixth game wiped out the rest of his 2019 season. It was the first time in five years he played fewer than 774 snaps and, like, many that are in the most visible positions, he was better than a lot of people thought. Three years ago he was good enough to get a five-year, $50 million extension as the Bengals fended off the Steelers and Titans in a bidding war.

Since that deal, he's played for four defensive coordinators and varying schemes.

"It changed, but that didn't affect me," Kirkpatrick said. "I was one of the guys that was able to adjust and learn it fast."

Kirkpatrick, 30, gives you a little peek at an outsized personality roaming between both playful and intense when asked about the moments he remembers. Yes, the Denver game. But not that Denver game.

It was the one in Denver in 2017 during a scoreless game in the first quarter when two yards deep in the end zone Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler threw it to him and he took off, streaking up the left side before breaking into the middle of the field and looking like he was going to cap off a 102-yard return.

But when he got to the Denver 10, he looked back and lost the ball before he dove back on it and flopped on the 1. The Bengals would score and would end up winning, 20-17.

"The funny moments, that's what I remember. The personalities. Coach Lewis was always talking about the humidity and the air out there. We have a (six-play) drive and I'm running into the end zone and I gas out. I want to remember the fun stuff that we laughed about and joked about on the way home."

He remembers the other Denver game, of course, in 2014.

With 2:50 left in the final PBS game of the year, the Bengals were hanging on to a 30-28 lead against Denver and quarterback Peyton Manning as the snow swirled on a Monday night. They needed a win to clinch a Wild Card berth before heading to Pittsburgh the next week and Kirkpatrick secured it when he stepped in front of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 30-yard pick-six. Kirkpatrick then ended Manning's last shot on another interception with 67 seconds left.

"I remember the Denver game at home," he said. "Just being around the fans. On game day playing with the little kids. There was a kid named Shawn. There's the family that holds the Chuckie doll. Those are the people I loved being around. The fans.

"I knew I was the target," he said of that third-and-one play, "because I had just came on the field and I knew I was about to be targeted."

Like all cornerbacks, he wore a target. He wore his with his head up.

"I leave with my head held high," he said.

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