Sporting shirts that read “Bengals Revival 2015” the players reconvened at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday for the first day of voluntary offseason workouts.
But the bigger theme overriding the first get-together was whether this will be the last go-round for the team as it is currently constructed with so many players entering the final year of their contract.
Of the 68 players on the roster, 28 have contracts that expire at the end of this season, including the top three wide receivers and the five defensive backs who make up the first-string nickel package.
“Obviously it crosses everybody’s mind,” starting safety George Iloka said. “For me, I think all of those things will take care of themselves. I can only control what I can control. If I make the plays I made last year and excel past that, I will be happy at the end of the year regardless of whatever situation I might go into. It doesn’t really concern me too much.”
Fellow starting safety Reggie Nelson and cornerbacks Adam Jones, Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick also are entering their contract years, as are wide receivers A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
Green, the four-time Pro Bowler with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, would seem to be first on the team’s negotiation to-do list.
And while he said his agent had brief discussions with the Bengals at the Combine, he admitted he’s not in any hurry because so many of the other top receivers from the 2010 and 2011 draft classes — Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas — also are seeking market-setting second contracts.
“I’m in no rush to be the first one,” said Green, who will make $10.2 million this year as part of the fifth-year option the Bengals exercised.
“I’m not hurting for money,” Green added. “I got my option. That’s enough for now. I’m just focused on football. Next year will take care of itself.”
Other starters entering the final year of their contract are tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, guard Kevin Zeitler, linebackers Emmaneul Lamur and Vinny Rey.
Quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t officially entering a contract year after signing a six-year extension that goes through 2020, but the structure of his deals allows for the Bengals to part ways with him after this season without sustaining a damaging cap hit.
That, coupled with the contract situation of his top three receivers, points to this possibly being the last chance this group has to break through and make a playoff run. But Dalton said that’s not how he sees it.
“Obviously we understand that there are a lot of guys who are going to be up, and certain things like that, but we’re not thinking that this is the last chance that we’ve got as this team,” he said.
Jones, who declared himself 100 percent healed from the ankle injury that cost him the entire 2014 season, said he looks at the contract situation in a positive, not pensive light.
“It’s more happiness than me being reserved and like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he said. “The thing that everybody thinks about is you play good, you’re going to end up in a good situation. That’s just how it is.
“We have a good thing going on here and I know we all want to stay together, and obviously the business side of it makes stuff go the other way, so whatever happens it does happen,” he added. “But we all love each other and all love this organization and being here and our families are here and we made a good life here, so we’ll see.”