The AFC North blog will take a look at one player on each team in the division who should be the priority for an extension before the season ends:
There's no question that defensive tackle Geno Atkins should be the Cincinnati Bengals' priority for an extension this season. But, based on current economics, the Bengals may not have the urgency to get one done soon.
Atkins is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game and has gone to two Pro Bowls before the age of 25. He deserves to get paid like the two highest-paid defensive tackles in the game, the Ravens' Haloti Ngata and the Lions' Ndamukong Suh. Atkins is just as stout against the run as both of them and has recorded more sacks than them in each of the past two seasons.
Because of that, it will be expensive to keep Atkins. Ngata signed a five-year, $61 million contract extension (with $37.1 million guaranteed) in 2011, when he was 29. Suh agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal (with $40 million guaranteed) as a rookie in 2010. Atkins' asking price has to start at the $12 million-per-season range. The problem is, the Bengals can use the franchise tag, which was $8.45 million in 2013 for defensive tackles. Cincinnati would save around $3 million in 2014 by using the tag on Atkins.
The player who has the best chance of getting an extension on the Bengals is defensive end Carlos Dunlap. He is scheduled to make $630,000 this season, the final year of his rookie deal. It won't take nearly as much to sign Dunlap, whose numbers have been limited because of injuries. The Bengals would be wise to reach a multi-year contract with Dunlap before he has a breakthrough season like defensive end Michael Johnson had in 2012.