Several teams will be taking a hard look at the secondary market in free agency, which is good news for impending free agent Dre Kirkpatrick.
The Cincinnati Bengals cornerback hasn't been the most consistent throughout his career since being selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but he's entering a potentially lucrative market for starting corners. Nearly every NFL team has plenty of spending room under the $167 million salary cap, and it appears Kirkpatrick won't be teamless for long once the free-agent signing period opens Thursday.
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Although the Bengals picked up Kirkpatrick's fifth-year option last season, his time in Cincinnati could be over unless they're willing to pay up. Kirkpatrick had a decent 2016 campaign -- 46 tackles, three interceptions -- and coach Marvin Lewis said in January he'd like to keep the former Alabama star around.
Speaking to reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday, Duke Tobin, the Bengals' director of player personnel, said the team would make an effort to keep its higher-profile free agents, including Kirkpatrick.
"What we do with a lot of our carryover (salary-cap) room is we look at guys that are coming up into the future and we normally start those discussions in the summertime and we'll see if we can get some things done in advance with any of the players who are coming up, whether that's Tyler (Eifert) or (Kevin) Zeitler or (Dre) Kirkpatrick or Gio (Bernard) or whoever.
"We do reserve a portion of our carryover room just for that and so we can minimize the number of (unrestricted free agents) that we have. We've got a large number this year and it's going to be a challenge for us. We'll be proactive with some of the young players that will be coming up in the next year or two."
Kirkpatrick is ranked No. 41 on NFL.com's Top 101 Free Agents and is the No. 5 cornerback on the list. It shouldn't be long before the NFL world finds out if Kirkpatrick will be playing for a new team in 2017.