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Bengals OL Ted Karras: 'It's like the last day of school' as Cincinnati heads into 2023 offseason

The Cincinnati Bengals cleaned out their lockers Monday following the AFC Championship Game loss in Kansas City, knowing it's the last time this current group will be together.

"It's like the last day of school," said center Ted Karras, via the Cincinnati Enquirer.

For some Bengals, there will be no returning to the Cincinnati school in the Fall, which is why Sunday's last-second loss burns even more.

"The team's not gonna be the same. There's gonna be changes to every NFL franchise. It's just the nature of the business," Karras said. "I don't know if we have a lot of free agents, but some guys have been there. I empathize with a lot of the guys that are gonna go on a journey and understand that it's a business. Hopefully, we can get everybody back that wants to be here."

The Bengals do, indeed, have a host of free agents, several of whom will move on with Cincy already sporting youngsters in line to move up and having to budget for future extensions for the likes of Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and, down the road, Ja'Marr Chase.

Cincinnati's free agent list includes safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, corners Eli Apple and Tre Flowers, tight ends Hayden Hurst and Drew Sample, and linebacker Germaine Pratt, among others. Then there are questions about other contracts, like Joe Mixon, who is set to count $12.79 million against the salary cap in 2023. Will Cincy make more changes along the offensive line yet again?

Bates spent the 2022 season on the franchise tag and is expected to part with the organization, which drafted Dax Hill in the first round to take his place in the defense ultimately.

"I want to be here," Bates said Monday. "Unfortunately, this business, there's different scenarios where I'm not in a situation where I can leave $10 million on the table and be OK with that. It wouldn't be fair to myself, my family, my legacy."

The Bengals have a great core that will keep them in the hunt in the AFC for years to come. But how they handle adding and subtracting pieces in the offseason will play a significant role in Cincy remaining Lombardi contenders.

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