Top Five Bengals Free Agents: Who Will Leave and Who Will Stay?

Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Top Five Bengals Free Agents: Who Will Leave and Who Will Stay?


Top Five Bengals Free Agents: Who Will Leave and Who Will Stay?


The Cincinnati Bengals have many tough decisions to make this offseason regarding pending free agents. They will not be able to retain everyone as they prepare to pay top dollar to Joe Burrow in his upcoming extension. Will these five high-profile free agents be back with the franchise for the 2023 season?

Jessie Bates III

Jessie Bates III is undeniably one of the best safeties in the NFL and has been a fan-favorite in Cincinnati since he was drafted in 2018. However, both sides have publicly struggled to reach an agreement over the past two offseasons. Bates and his agent. Dave Mulugheta, are insistent on getting lots of guaranteed money in a contract at the top of the position group. 

The Bengals are in a tough spot to meet those demands as they prepare for major extensions for players like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and potentially Tee Higgins. The team drafted Dax Hill, a free safety, in the first round in 2022 to be his replacement (at the time Bates was still holding out for a new contract and had not signed his franchise tag). Bates had a fantastic career in Cincinnati but the writing is on the wall. The team cannot afford to pay him the contract that he wants.

Verdict – Won’t Be Back

Vonn Bell

The older of the Bengals’ star safety tandem appears to be the most likely free agent to return. He has been a team captain for the past two years along with his stellar play on the field. Bell has been a ballhawk during his time in Cincinnati with a team-leading four interceptions in 2022. 

He has been a critical piece to the team both on the field and with the off the field culture. He will be cheaper than Bates and should be locked down to finish the prime of his career in stripes.

Verdict – Will Be Back

Germaine Pratt

After Germaine Pratt’s emotional reaction to the ending of the AFC Championship, fans began to speculate if he was on his way out. Since then, Pratt has set concerns that he does not want to return to Cincinnati to rest. All indications from him hint at a potential return. If the price is right, I’m sure the Bengals would love to have Pratt back. He had a career year and was one of the highest-rated linebackers in football in 2022 per PFF (80.6). His skills in coverage were vital to the team’s defensive success. 

Unfortunately, linebacker is not a premium position in the modern NFL. The Bengals also have Logan Wilson, a fellow third-round pick, set to hit free agency next offseason. Wilson has shown more consistency in his three years and is a significant leader on defense. If it comes down to paying one or the other, expect Cincinnati to choose Wilson. Mutual interest may exist between Pratt and the Bengals, but he can get a bigger payday elsewhere.

Verdict – Won’t Be Back

Hayden Hurst

An underrated signing last year, Hayden Hurst proved that the Bengals’ free agency strategy of replacing established players (like CJ Uzomah) with cheaper options with higher upside. Their investment paid off as Hurst had a productive 52 catches, 414 yards, and two touchdowns in 13 games. Hurst praised the organization in numerous interviews and talked extensively about finally finding a home. 

However, he may have played his way into a bigger contract just as Uzomah did. Hurst wants to be back in Cincinnati, so it comes down to the two sides coming to a team-friendly agreement that still gives Hurst his due. I think they come to a deal and lock up Hurst on a multi-year contract.

Verdict – Will Be Back

Eli Apple

Setting aside his social media antics, Eli Apple was an adequate starter during his time in Cincinnati. He and Cam Taylor-Britt kept things afloat in the Bengals’ secondary after Chidobe Awuzie went down for the year with an injury. Taylor-Britt’s ascent and Awuzie’s return put Apple in a difficult roster spot should he return. 

Apple would be a high-level CB4 and has strong connections to Anarumo, but likely wants to pursue a starting role. The Bengals are not in a financial position to pay a premium for backups either. Cornerback depth is a necessity this off-season, but the team may seek cheaper and younger options than Apple.

Verdict – Won’t Be Back


More The Wright Way Network