Votes of confidence have been few and far between for Darqueze Dennard since being selected 24th overall by the Bengals in 2014.
He’s seen injuries derail opportunities, only four starts and two separate veteran corners receive lucrative extensions rather than an open spot for the 25-year-old.
That’s partly why he was curious to hear the club exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which extends his contract with the team another year through 2018. Prior to receiving the call Friday morning, the Bengals stamping the $8.53 million vote of approval was in limbo.
“Definitely a confidence boost,” Dennard said. “Just thankful for the organization, the Brown family and coaching staff still believing in me. Knowing I can play this game. I’m really grateful. The last three years I haven’t played healthy. Unfortunate injury situations you can’t prepare for. For them to still believe in me and know the capability that I have and flashes I showed here and there means a lot.”
It also means a lot of money locked up in the cornerback room. Kirkpatrick just inked a five-year, $52 million deal. The Bengals own a team option on the final season of Adam Jones’ contract, but could certainly exercise that to complete his three-year contract.
With all three around in ’18, that would mean three of top seven cap hits on the club would be corners. And a fourth would be a 2016 first-round pick in William Jackson III.
Bengals beat writers Jim Owczarski and Paul Dehner Jr. recap the team’s 2017 draft. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar
A total of 23 of the 32 2014 first-round picks have already had their options activated with the deadline being May 3. As much as this decision was about money, it’s not for Dennard, who took 334 defensive snaps last year. That’s only 30 percent of possible plays, but topped the combined number of snaps from his first two seasons.
“I just want to play football,” Dennard said. “The money is going to come. I was always told you work hard, do the best you can do. I really wasn’t focused on that. My priority this offseason is me being healthy and compete and try to help us get where we need to be at.”
Dennard doesn’t need to look far to understand how the process can work out for him both on the field and in the bank. Kirkpatrick hadn’t played much when the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option. He followed with two years in which he improved both seasons and landed the biggest contract the Bengals handed out this offseason.
When hearing of Dennard’s news, Kirkpatrick was quick to post a congratulatory and reach out.
“For me, I’m very happy for him because I know he was dealing with a lot last year,” Kirkpatrick said. “I always try to talk to him because at the end of the day who could tell him best? I went through it my first three years here. I told him keep pushing and it will always work out for you when you work hard.”
Even if the Bengals chose to decline to option, Dennard could have followed in the recent footsteps of Oakland’s Bruce Irvin and New Orleans’ Nick Fairley who still cashed in large contracts the following season after having their options declined.
Plus, the quicker any player can reach free agency the better. From a money standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with a fully guaranteed check for $8.6 million, but there were advantages if the decision went the other way.
“Yeah, it didn’t matter at all,” Dennard said. “Just a little bit more comfortable knowing you know where you are going to be and what the Bengals feel about you.”
The timing of the call coming the morning after the first round of the draft is interesting. It suggests had a corner ended up the pick on Thursday, the option would not have been picked up. Of course, the Bengals could have had consensus on top corner Marshon Lattimore if they wanted at No. 9. He went two picks later to the Saints.
In essence, they placed their chip on Dennard instead.
“We have talks throughout the course of these past three years,” Dennard said. “I had games I played really good then I’d have something happen unfortunate. It’s definitely a confidence boost and a blessing for the coaching staff to just believe in me.”