Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard was one of the 23 2014 first-round picks to have their fifth-year options exercised before this week’s deadline, although it probably wouldn’t have come as a great surprise to anyone if the decision had gone the other way.
Dennard has yet to play all 16 games in a season, has made just four starts over his first three seasons and reached a career high last season by playing in 30 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That resume doesn’t scream out for an $8.5 million contract, but that’s what Dennard stands to get in 2018 under the option.
The salary is guaranteed against injury only, so the Bengals could still move on without Dennard before the option year kicks in. The existence of that loophole didn’t do anything to lessen the lift he received from the news.
“Definitely a confidence boost,” Dennard said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “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.”
The Bengals likely hope that Dennard’s trajectory plays out in a similar fashion to the one Dre Kirkpatrick followed to start his career. Kirkpatrick didn’t play much over his first three years before moving into the starting lineup in 2015 and playing well enough over the last two years to sign a contract extension this offseason.