Should the Bengals re-sign Eli Apple, other free agent cornerbacks this offseason? Mohammad Ahmad

CINCINNATI, Ohio – The Bengals will have to make tough decisions at cornerback in free agency this offseason.

Three cornerbacks are set to hit free agency next month: Eli Apple, Jalen Davis and Tre Flowers. All three provided a bevy of veteran depth for the Bengals last season. Those three cornerbacks shared a combined 17 years of experience in the NFL.

The Bengals spent over $12.7 million on their cornerbacks against the cap in 2022, which was 6.02% of their total adjusted cap space. That’s the 16th-highest positional cap space hit at that position among all teams, per Spotrac.

Spotrac says that the Bengals are set to spend almost $17 million on their cornerback room entering the 2023 season and that’s with only five corners under contract. With 7.5% of their cap space already going toward the cornerback room, the Bengals may not be able to keep Flowers, Davis and Apple together as they might want to roll back their spending at that position.

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With rookie cornerback Cam-Taylor Britt and veteran Chidobe Awuzie each looking to build off of their 2022 performances, namely Awuzie as he’s coming off of his ACL tear, the Bengals already have two formidable corners. Veteran Mike Hilton will continue to take charge at the slot corner spot.

What does all of this mean for Apple, Flowers and Davis as all three of them are reaching the later part of their 20s? Here’s a case-by-case situation for each individual player and what the Bengals should do.

Eli Apple

2022 stats: 35 solo tackles, 8 passes defended, no interceptions (15 games played + 3 postseason games)

The most experienced player at his position for the Bengals, Apple had a shaky start to the 2022 season. Unless you count his day against Pittsburgh where he had a Pro Football Focus defensive grade of 70, the next eight weeks were anything but memorable for Apple.

Opposing receivers caught 66% of passes targeted their way when Apple was covering them. That percentage would be higher if you don’t include his performance against a Carolina Panthers team that was scoreless at halftime against the Bengals in Week 9. The low point for Apple during the first half of the year was a rematch against the Saints in front of a New Orleans crowd that loudly cheered against Apple when he missed two tackles against practice squad receivers.

To Apple’s credit, he bounced back for the back half of the year, including the postseason. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he didn’t get a single interception on top of leading all Bengals defenders in missed tackle percentage (12.5%). His controversial social media presence didn’t help and could backfire against him if he’s looking for opportunities away from Cincinnati.

Re-signing Apple to a third-consecutive one year deal wouldn’t hurt but it would have to come at a modest price below his $11 million market value (per Spotrac). Furthermore, Apple would have to be willing to play a depth role versus his usual starting role, which seems unlikely given Apple has been a starter everywhere he’s played in his seven seasons. Apple has said he wants to be back, but will he?

The writing is on the wall: Taylor-Britt earned his way as a starter, Awuzie isn’t going anywhere for now and Apple will probably look to get paid as a starter elsewhere.

Verdict: Let him walk

Tre Flowers

2022 stats: 20 solo tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended (15 games played + 2 postseason games)

Flowers finally played his first full season as a Cincinnati Bengal after being acquired off of waivers in 2021.

The former Seattle Seahawk, who was once the league’s tallest cornerback, standing at 6-foot-3, provided critical depth at the slot corner behind Hilton. Like Apple, though, Flowers had a rough start to the 2021 year. One of the Bengals’ worst defensive breakdowns of the year came when Flowers missed Ravens tight end Mark Andrews on a coverage play as Andrews got open for a touchdown in the Bengals’ 19-17 Week 5 loss.

Flowers slowly but surely got up to speed and played some of his best ball in December last year in subpackages against tight ends. He picked off Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady on the road in Tampa, which ironically was one of the last interceptions the now retired and future Hall of Fame quarterback ever threw. His defensive PFF grade against New England a week later was an impressive 90.1.

Much like Apple, Flowers has openly expressed his desire to return with the Bengals in 2023 to The Bengals might want to keep Flowers too but if his asking price is too high, they might have to let him go. His market value about the same as Apple’s, per Spotrac, but given his veteran status and the fact that he was a one-time starter in Seattle, keeping him will be tough.

The Bengals are already spending a lot at corner in 2023 and letting Flowers get more money elsewhere will be painful but necessary.

Verdict: Let him walk

Jalen Davis

2022 stats: 2 tackles (13 games played + 1 postseason game)

This just might be the easiest decision out of the three cornerbacks for the Bengals.

Davis, who has been with Cincinnati since the 2020 year, hasn’t had much of an impact statistically. However, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has been impressed with Davis’ work ethic, calling him worthy of being a cornerback on any 53-man roster. That work ethic has allowed the former undrafted free agent to stay in the league for over five seasons now.

The Bengals re-signed Davis to a one-year deal last year and should be able to do it again this offseason. He only played a handful of snaps in 2022 but his depth can’t be understated as pointed out by Taylor. Unless Davis thinks he can compete for a better role elsewhere in the league, he should be a good fit to stay with the Bengals, especially if they need depth at the slot position with Flowers’ potential departure.

Verdict: Re-sign him to another short-term deal

Mohammad Ahmad covers the Bengals for You can follow him on Twitter @MohammadAhmadTV and read all his coverage at

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