Cincinnati Bengals: Cap Space Could Prompt Changing of the Guard in AFC North

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMarch 9, 2013

The Bengals could be set to take over the AFC North with other teams struggling to keep their rosters intact.
The Bengals could be set to take over the AFC North with other teams struggling to keep their rosters intact.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals are currently enjoying $44.9 million in cap space while heading deeper into the offseason. Re-signing core players to long-term deals has been the mantra of head coach Marvin Lewis since the end of the 2012 season.

The Bengals began re-signing key players this past week, starting with placing the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson. They then inked punter Kevin Huber to a five-year deal and re-signed long snapper Clark Harris.

The Bengals were also able to keep Jeromy Miles, Vincent Rey and Andrew Hawkins in the fold with one-year tenders.

With free agency set to begin on March 12th, the Bengals still have a good amount of work to do if they are to keep more of their own free agents. They do, however, have the mentality and cap space available to get it all done.

Once these key players are re-signed, the Bengals will still have plenty of cap space available to extend contracts of key players such as Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. This will keep these talented young players in Cincinnati for a good portion of their careers.

However, two AFC North powerhouse franchises are not quite as fortunate as Cincinnati.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in salary-cap turmoil since the beginning of the offseason. Renegotiating contracts with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons only brought the Steelers back to even in cap room.

Pittsburgh also had to allow key players such as Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis to enter free agency due to cap restrictions. This led to the release of five-time Pro-Bowler James Harrison early on Saturday.

After all of this, the Steelers are now only $7 million under the salary cap. This is not a good sign for a team that did not make the playoffs last season.

The defending Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens, are not in any better shape due to other reasons.

The Ravens decided to make quarterback Joe Flacco the NFL's highest-paid player with a six-year, $120.6 million contract. This brought the Ravens down to only $12 million in cap space.

Due to this, Baltimore could not afford to keep several key players on the roster. Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams are all set to hit the open market. The Ravens were also forced to cut guard Bobbie Williams to allow for more cap space.

On Saturday, reports surfaced that wide receiver Anquan Boldin was asked to renegotiate his contract. The Ravens reportedly would like to lessen the $6 million base salary that Boldin is supposed to earn in 2013. Boldin rejected the Ravens' offer and is likely to be released by the franchise.

These recent occurrences do not bode well for both the Ravens and Steelers. Both of these teams have had a stranglehold on the division for years now—this is likely to change.

As these teams lose key players and try to replace them with cheaper components, they risk floundering in mediocrity.

With the Bengals set to retain all of their valuable assets that helped them to a 10-6 finish in 2012, they certainly seem to be a team on the rise. As the Browns rebuild and the Steelers and Ravens struggle to keep their rosters intact, the Bengals could very well be the next team to take control the AFC North.