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First part of free agency opens Tuesday


The Bengals hope to strike a deal with Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth (77).

The Bengals' run-up to free agency has mirrored the recent past as they talk to their players in an attempt to nail down contracts and it's going down to the last minute, which in this case is noon Tuesday.

That's when teams, if they haven't already tampered, can start taking to agents of players from other teams for the next 52 hours. They can't reach a deal in principle or sign a contract until 4 p.m. Thursday. Also in that window, players can't make recruiting trips or talk to the teams themselves.

During that stretch the Bengals are going to be doing plenty of talking to their guys because they've accumulated enough talent down through the years that this is another March where the rest of the NFL is expected to come after their players. In the wake of losing wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu last year, the Bengals are trying to fend off suitors for several players they'd like to retain.

The list mostly likely starts with Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, includes the rising stocks of cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and right guard Kevin Zeitler, probably wide receiver Brandon LaFell and running back Rex Burkhead off last season's strong second-half performances, and nose tackle Domata Peko in what looks to be a new role as mentor for Andrew Billings.

They'd like to get all their guys back, but 11 free agents are a big number to re-sign and as Alex Marvez of Sirius NFL Radio noted at last week's scouting combine, "The problem now is they're building too well. They've had so much talent from a couple of years ago that have become unrestricted free agents it's hard to keep everybody."

Typically the Bengals pursue their own unrestricted free agents so they can grab some compensatory picks in the next draft. This year they were one of three teams to be awarded the maximum of four extra picks.

It's believed they'll tender restricted free agent guard T.J. Johnson a one-year offer of $1.8 million.

Here is their UFA list:

STARTERS: LT Andrew Whitworth, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, RG Kevin Zeitler, WR Brandon LaFell, NT Domata Peko. REGULARS AND KEY BACKUPS AND SPECIAL TEAMERS:  RBs Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman, DL Wallace Gilberry, DE Margus Hunt, RT Eric Winston.

REHAB: CB Chykie Brown (ACL)

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