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Bengals hold on to Dre Kirkpatrick while losing other key players in free agency

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Kirkpatrick is staying with Bengals on a new five-year deal.

Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals have already lost offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth in free agency, but they are holding on to Dre Kirkpatrick. The cornerback tweeted that he has re-signed with the Bengals on a new five-year deal.

Kirkpatrick has come a long way in his five-year Bengals career. Labeled a bust early in his career after struggling to stay healthy, the former Alabama corner has finally blossomed into the first-round talent the Bengals believed he’d be when selecting him with the 17th overall pick of the 2012 draft.

One year removed from an interception-less season, the 27-year-old corner turned things around in 2016, intercepting three passes along with 10 pass defenses. Kirkpatrick has intercepted at least three passes in three of his five NFL seasons, and he’s deflected 26 passes over the past two years.

Manning the left side of the defense, where he’d often match up against opponents’ top receivers, Kirkpatrick showed massive signs of improvement in his second year, shutting down Antonio Brown in both of the matchups between the two AFC North rivals and making one of the most beautiful interceptions of the entire season against the Buffalo Bills.

Cincinnati’s defense struggled early on in the 2016 season after losing veteran safety Reggie Nelson, along with some supporting cast members, last summer. However, Kirkpatrick stepped up and became a leader in Cincinnati’s secondary, making plays left and right. As a result, the Bengals defense finished among the top five in interceptions for the fourth consecutive season. After a slow start, Cincinnati’s defense allowed just 15.8 points per game over the second half of the 2016 season.

The Bengals missed out on a playoff berth for the first time in six years, but the progress made on defense over the course of last season — specifically with Kirkpatrick — gives Bengals fans room for optimism that the team could make another playoff run in 2017.