Bengals roster changes: Cincinnati losing two more key contributors in free agency

Credit: Jeff Roberson

Credit: Jeff Roberson

The Cincinnati Bengals are losing two more of their players in free agency.

NFL Network national insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday morning that tight end Hayden Hurst will be signing a three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, where he will be joining former Bengals safety Vonn Bell.

On Tuesday evening, reports surfaced that running back Samaje Perine had agreed to terms on a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Denver Broncos. Perine confirmed his departure from Cincinnati with a “goodbye” post on Twitter.

“Cincinnati, I just want to say thank you accepting my family and I with open arms,” Perine posted. “We couldn’t have asked for a better home these past four years. I will always have nothing but love for you.”

The Bengals had six big contributors set to become free agents this offseason, and four of them now have gone to other teams. Linebacker Germaine Pratt re-signed on a three-year deal Tuesday, and cornerback Eli Apple has yet to be linked with a new team, but Bell, Hurst, Perine and free safety Jessie Bates (Atlanta) leave significant holes for Cincinnati to fill.

Hurst had signed a one-year contract with the Bengals last offseason and proved a good target for Joe Burrow, despite missing three games because of injury, but the tight end market was always going to factor into their ability to bring him back on a reasonable deal that will fit the budget with other big contracts up for extension.

The Bengals aren’t re-signing Mitchell Wilcox and Drew Sample also is expected to become a free agent Wednesday afternoon when the new league calendar begins. Hurst had 52 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games.

“We’re going to have to find tight ends somewhere, whether it’s draft or free agency, whether that means re-signing Hayden or not, however that looks, we’re going to have to find some tight ends that can play for us,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said two weeks ago at the NFL Combine.

Perine had carved out a nice role with the Bengals, particularly on third downs as a versatile running back who was strong in pass protection. He rushed for 394 yards and two touchdowns and added 287 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

With uncertainty for Joe Mixon’s future and the amount of cap space the team could save by releasing him, it seemed Perine could have an increased role in staying with the Bengals. Now, they will have to look elsewhere for options.

“I think it’s really hard to predict what we’re going to do going forward but I’ve really been happy with that room,” coach Zac Taylor said at the NFL Combine. “I think that those guys (Mixon and Perine) really complement each other really well going back to Oklahoma. They’ve been together for so long. Samaje is just one of those veterans that everybody loves because you can trust him whether it’s on special teams or it’s been third down, whether it’s carrying the run on first and second down in some of the games Joe was out, Samaje has just been a consistent force for us.”

The Bengals are expected to re-sign Trayveon Williams, though he’s carried the ball just 47 times for 238 yards in his four seasons with most of those coming in 2020 when Mixon played just six games. Williams took over the kick return duties last year and will be in the mix for that job again this season while also providing depth in the running back room.

Cincinnati also has been linked to Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams with the Bills, Panthers and Bears also reportedly in the mix. The Lions on Tuesday came to terms with former Bears running back David Montgomery, a Cincinnati native.

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