As the end of the season draws closer, the Bengals begin to look ahead to 2024 after the disappointing season. No matter how the season ends, the Bengals will be looking forward to free agency to fill any remaining gaps in the roster. The Bengals have managed to make several splash signings in recent memory, most notably Trey Hendrickson, who has seen his best years in the stripes.
What the Bengals will look to focus on first is keeping the impact players in house. For example, Tee Higgins and D.J. Reader are set to hit the open market. Out of the many free agents the Bengals have in 2024, I think the most notable players to return will be: Tee Higgins, Jonah Williams, Josh Tupou, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Markus Bailey. Tee Higgins' return is still up in the air to many Bengals fans and analysts alike. If he is to return, the Bengals retain arguably the best deep ball receiver in football, and if he leaves the Bengals save millions of dollars but would be asking Andrei Iosivas or Charlie Jones to make an immediate jump in production.
That leaves guys like D.J. Reader, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jake Browning to hit free agency. As amazing as D.J. has been in the trenches the last couple of years, his recent quad injury and him turning 30 makes him returning to the building unlikely at best. Chidobe was elite in 2022, but has looked lethargic this year. His ACL tear last season has affected his speed and change of direction, making him less effective in coverage. He’s ranked 77th amongst corners in average target separation, and 62nd in catch rate. Jake Browning is least likely to return as his recent dominance as a backup will garner a lot of attention for clubs looking for a one-year starter.
Two of the positions the Bengals will likely look to find an immediate playmaker would be at tight end and cornerback. Despite the emergence of Tanner Hudson, the Bengals haven’t had a true playmaker at tight end since the beginning of Tyler Eifert’s career. With the Bengals recent success, a guy like Brock Bowers would be out of reach in the draft. The only tight end who the Bengals will likely be willing to throw a contract at would be Houston tight end Dalton Schultz. The only issue there is that Schultz is unlikely to leave H-Town, meaning the Bengals would likely wait for the draft to find a hopefully dynamic tight end.
The other spot the Bengals would look to attack would be corner. As good as the corners have been, Chidobe Awuzie is unlikely to return and Mike Hilton isn’t getting any younger. The Bengals would look to find a versatile corner who can thrive in Lou Anaroumo’s system. Someone like Jeff Okudah, who struggled early in his career but has improved as time has gone on could be a fit. With a better coaching staff and veterans surrounding him, he should continue to blossom.
If the Bengals pick up Okudah and Schultz, they would only need to make depth signings to have a great setup going into 2024. These signings will give the Bengals an outline to make their draft a success.