Bengals storylines to follow before training camp

The NFL released training camp starting dates for all of its teams Thursday, and the Cincinnati Bengals are set to begin reporting July 23 with rookies arriving first, followed by the veterans on July 26.

Players are on a break now and doing their own workouts to prepare, but there are still a few roster needs or issues the organization could address between now and the start of training camp.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on until then…

1. Bates contract situation

The deadline for the Bengals to come to an agreement on a long-term deal for Jessie Bates is July 15. At this point it seems unlikely, considering the current market for safeties. Pittsburgh just gave Minkah Fitzpatrick a four-year, $73.6 million contract, and Bates wants to be paid as one of the top players at his position.

The Bengals used the franchise tag on him, so he is set to remain with the organization this season and will be making about $12.9 million, assuming he doesn’t hold out as a previous report by USA Today suggested he would. But once July 15 passes, that is when the attention moves from negotiations going nowhere to the discussion of whether Bates will play on the tag. Cincinnati drafted Daxton Hill seemingly as insurance and a future replacement.

Bates had thought he would get an extension last year when the Bengals gave Sam Hubbard a new deal prior to training camp, and his teammates continue to support the notion he deserves a big raise and security of a long-term contract.

2. Looking at veteran defensive tackles

When Larry Ogunjobi’s contract with the Bears fell through and he remained unsigned during OTAs, some wondered if he might find his way back to the Bengals on another one-year deal. However, he signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Steelers on Tuesday so he is no longer an option. Ogunjobi injured his foot in the playoff opener and he ended up failing his physical with the Bears, as apparently it was still an issue at that time.

The Bengals re-signed B.J. Hill in March, and he is expected to step into the starting role next to D.J. Reader inside, but there is still need for another veteran presence and a few seemingly viable options remain available on the market.

Ndamukong Suh and Darius Philon are considered two of the top available DTs, though both bring different concerns.

At age 35, Suh might not be what he once was, but he’s still capable of contributing at a high level and he has proven durable while not missing a game since the 2011 season. He had six sacks in 2020 and 2021, plus two sacks in six postseason games with Tampa Bay. Philon is only 28 but didn’t play in 2019 or 2020 after the Cardinals cut him because of an assault charge. He played 11 games with two starts for Las Vegas last year and had two sacks and two forced fumbles, so if the Bengals are willing to take a chance on him, he could play a role off the bench.

3. Could another O-line player return?

Two former Bengals offensive linemen remain free agents and could still possibly play a role at the right price. Guard/center Trey Hopkins and guard Quinton Spain could add some veteran experience to the bench or slide in at left guard if things aren’t going well in the competition with Jackson Carman, D’Ante Smith and Hakeem Adeniji.

Cincinnati rebuilt its offensive line with three new starters this offseason and moved the 2021 competition at right guard over to left guard, where Spain previously played. Ted Karras replaces Hopkins at center and Alex Cappa is set to play right guard.

ProFootballFocus recently graded the Bengals’ 2022 offensive line as the eighth best projected line in the league.

4. Extension for eligible players?

It seems unlikely Vonn Bell or Germaine Pratt would be given extensions at this point but it’s always possible the Bengals could reward one of them with new contracts. Bell would be the most likely, but Pratt seems to have more to show before the Bengals would be ready to give him an extension.

The Bengals did pick up the fifth-year option on Jonah Williams’ rookie contract, and if the organization is expecting to move on from Bates, maybe a deal is done to keep Bell.

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