Opening Comments ...
Marvin Lewis: "We're pleased, obviously, to be here today, with Dre's signing. It's a very exciting day for us, for him. We're really pleased to be able to have Dre be back here, continue his career here and hopefully at one point finish his career here in Cincinnati. But finishing it with a couple championships is what he'd prefer. He's been a great, young talent for us. He's worked his tail off year in and year out to eventually rise to this level. Now there's a chance to really expand himself and become one of the young leaders on the football team, which is exciting for us and exciting for him to further the message from the defensive coaches, with Paul (defensive coordinator Paul Guenther), and myself. As we go into this draft, and with future drafts, (he'll) continue to help mentor the young players coming into the football team. Being a first-round, high pick like he was, he knows the pressures that come with that, and the responsibilities that come with that. We're very fortunate to have him back here and continue it."
How much did Dre evolving as a player and person, as you've mentioned, make him perfect to be one of the next people to step into that leadership role? He showed patience and took advantage of opportunity to get to this point. Is that something you preach to young players here?
Lewis: "He did. He showed patience, and it was hard for him (laughs). But he did. He came to work every day. He got an opportunity to follow in step and get mentored by some guys who had preceded him in a sense in similar situations. That was a good thing for him. And now, he's evolved. As he told me last season, there's a difference in him in how he prepares for the game and how he prepares for the week, from what he knew as a rookie to what he knows now. Obviously, coming here from Alabama, he was at one of those places where they coached as hard and as well-prepared as any team in college football. But yet, he had things to still learn and help himself. He continued to pass that on to others and push others in the right directions.
"Secondly, Dre wanted to be here. He wanted to get it done. He showed patience in getting the contract finished. He had some other opportunities, and he thought this was the best way for him to continue his career and continue with his teammates and move forward."
Dre, what has been the hardest part of this whole process for you?
Kirkpatrick: "Playing the waiting game. Just trying to ignore the noise, and just trying to stay focused. Continuing to work out and stay close to my family. That was pretty much my main focus. I was not trying to think about where I was going, as coach said. I expressed that to everybody in here, prior to the end of the season. I feel like the best decision has been done."
Why did you want to stay here?
Kirkpatrick: "I have family here. This is home. I'm old school. I'm like my dad: once I'm accustomed to something, I don't really like changes. But for the most part, it's all about building. There's a lot of great football out there for this team. I didn't want to run, I didn't want to shy away because of a certain number, or anything like that. It was just all about my passion and my love for this team, and my passion and my love for my coach."
Over the last couple of years, we've seen you grow and mature, and become one of the more vocal guys in the locker room. How much do you enjoy being a guy in the room that everybody looks up to?
Kirkpatrick: "That's just something that takes time. I remember when I used to come in, I wouldn't say (anything) to (anybody). I was shy, nervous. Coach Lewis would come by and crack a joke, just to get me to smile. But now, like I said, it's nothing that you can ask for. It's something that you have to be chosen for. You have to embrace it and be ready for the moment. I feel like I changed a lot of things in my life going into my last few years. Early on, everything wasn't as bright for me as I thought it should have been. But I had a good support system around me -- my coach, my agent, my dad, my mom, my son. Anything like that, to continue to lift me up, continue to keep me going, continue to keep me striving. If that's where the path leads me to help lead this team, that's definitely what I want to do. But that's something that you just can't be picked out, you have to be chosen."
Marvin mentioned winning championships. How much of a motivator was that for you coming back here?
Kirkpatrick: "Watching TV and how you're hearing a lot of teams and a lot of people saying certain things about a place where you love and have a lot of passion for. Like I said, I just feel like there's a lot of work down here for me. I want to build a legacy. Last year, I felt like I started striving a little bit toward building my own legacy. Why not finish it where I started?"
Coach Lewis mentioned how you were mentored here earlier in your career. Who have you attached yourself to here that you would like to be like, over the next five years?
Kirkpatrick: "There's a lot of them. The one person that said something to me -- and I have nothing but respect for him, because it was man to man -- was Terence Newman. Going into my second, third year, I was a little frustrated. I felt like I wanted to play, I wanted to be starting. He politely walked over to me and was like, 'Hey, it's not my job to give it to you, it's your job to take it.' As a man, I could respect that. From then on, I had nothing but the utmost respect for that guy."
Could you envision yourself saying that five years from now?
Kirkpatrick: "(Laughs) At some point, yeah. About 10 years (laughs). Ten sounds better. But at the end of the day, it shows that there was no selfishness. Just go out here and compete. If you win it, you win it. It was nothing but respect on either end. I take my hat off to him for that."
Was the free-agent process as scary as you thought it'd be? You talked at the end of the season about how you were a little nervous for it.
Kirkpatrick: "Yeah. It was a nightmare thinking I was going to leave. I don't want to leave. I don't want to have to go pick up a new house, new cars and all that stuff. A new city. No. I'd rather just stay here with my little dog, my girlfriend, and bother coach every blue moon when I see him headed to work (laughs)."
You've talked about some of the advice you received playing. Was there any advice through this process that you've kept in your head?
Kirkpatrick: "I always go back to Pittsburgh. I always go back to that Pittsburgh game (2015 season playoff loss to Pittsburgh), and how that ended up that game. I just want to win for Coach (Lewis). I want to give him his win. Like I said, there's still a lot of things we've got to put together, but we're definitely close."
Marvin, what has the free agency process been like for you?
Lewis: "Good, I'm glad somebody asked that (laughs). My first year in the NFL was 1992, which was the kickoff of free agency -- after the '92 season. I literally coached one of the guys who was part of the lawsuit against the NFL -- Hardy Nickerson. I know the emotion of it that Hardy went though. The first guys who changed teams, I got to coach two of those guys -- Gerald Williams, who left us, and Kevin Greene, who came to us along with Hardy. So I watched two guys change through the process. To me, the NFL process, it's a positive process. I know fans get nervous, and it gets people going, 'Oh, that guy's coming, or that guy's going.' But unfortunately, or fortunately, it is a pay-for-play system. We have to continue to do a great job of drafting and developing our young talent. We can't keep them all in the fold at some point. Guys look for opportunity to play, they look for more opportunity for this or that, or whatever it may be. But we've been fortunate enough, and the people upstairs have done a great job of continuing on with as many of our guys as we can. That's been our philosophy since I've been here, and it's been great. But Dre and all these guys, they all jump through the same hoops to get here. We've got to have them jump every day and continue to move forward. Now, we're going to have another evolution of some players. We had a couple guys who chose to go elsewhere. We have two or three young guys who we have drafted over these years to put into those spots. They went through the same process to get here. We feel the same way about them as (when) we brought them here. And now, it's their time to shine. That's our job as coaches to get them to that level. The same holes were filled by the guys who left here, at one point. We went through the same process with them, and plugged those guys in. These guys have had a couple years to stay behind and learn and get mentored and coached and in shape, and now they've got to go shine. That's part of it. For coaches, we want to hang on to everybody we can, you've just got to know that it's not possible. I don't know that everybody understands that. We have to continue to develop and move through the process. It's really, really important to maintain a level and be great. We're not there yet. We've got to be great. Once that (happens), you can continue to work forward.
Lewis: "But the last 72 hours aren't a lot of fun. A year ago, I was away -- I went to some college campus workouts that day. I chose not to do that this year (laughs). I actually cancelled out this year, so I could be here, be part of it and be here for these guys to talk to. They reach out, and you're able to answer back. 'What's going on, coach?' That kind of thing. They want to know. That's true with Kevin (Zeitler), that's true with Andrew (Whitworth), and the guys that chose to go elsewhere. But it's good to have contact. These guys have laid their butts on the line for me, and they're a big part of me, with their families and their wives and so forth. Now, we get to continue on with some new ones."
You have a lot of regard for Andrew Whitworth. Is that a tough conversation to have, when he left?
Lewis: "This is. There's nobody that's been more... than Andrew, with his family and what he's done and how he's gone about it. But we cleared room for Andrew when we brought Andrew here. And now it's time to move on. Andrew's done a great job of mentoring Cedric (Ogbuehi). That's part of the process. That's what we've got to get done."
Do you ever feel surprised about what happens in free agency?
Lewis: "I think so (laughs). I'd be telling you a fib to say I wasn't. But we've got to feel good about it, with Brandon LaFell, a guy who was new to us last year who really uplifted the building, the (receivers) room. He aided in the development of A.J. (Green), which is good. A.J. has never had somebody like Brandon LaFell around him. So that was great for A.J. And when A.J. went out, Brandon LaFell raised his level again to fill some of the void."
Cedric Ogbuehi and Dre are obviously in different situations, but Cedric has had to wait for his time...
Lewis: "Just like Dre did."
And he's gone through some struggles...
Lewis: "Just like Dre did. Remember the Minnesota game (laughs)?"
Kirkpatrick: "I'm the perfect mentor (laughs)."
Lewis: "But that's part of it. But like he said with Terence, I can remember when we were in Kansas City, and I looked up and No. 27 was running on the field on defense. I'm like, 'What the heck is going on here?' They said, 'Oh, we thought Zim (former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) had said something to you.' But we tried, just like we did with Cedric, to work Dre in as a young player, to give him the opportunity to go out there and play and get their feet wet, so they understand what the task at hand is all about. We think that's really important. So it's got to be exciting. It's exciting for us as coaches. We're going to miss the hell out of Andrew and everything he did. But we pass the torch. The quarterback has picked up the torch. Andrew has done everything he can with Andy (Dalton) all the time, and now it's Andy's football team totally. He's got to pick it up and go."
Did you get a chance to talk to Whitworth right before he made the decision?
Was that a good conversation?
Lewis: "Well, it's not a 'good' conversation (laughs). But obviously, as I say, he's a grown man. Dre has been his teammate since he's been here, and he's been a guy that all these young guys can look over and see, 'This is how you do it.' They want to have a career that spans the time and success that Andrew Whitworth has had."
Dre, what's it like to build all of these relationships with your teammates, and then some move on while others stay? And then you have new teammates coming in, who you need to get used to...
Kirkpatrick: "It's a process. I've been here five years. I've seen guys go, I've seen guys come. But one thing is, we keep the core guys. For the most part, it's been the same team. Whit's been here my whole career. Zeitler's been here my whole career. We don't even have to flinch to even think about moving on. Those guys, they just chose to go another path. I just know that this, the Bengals, is all I'm representing right now."