On Wednesday the Cincinnati Bengals placed defensive tackle Pat Sims on Injured Reserve after suffering two injuries in as many weeks. After suffering an ankle injury against the Cleveland Browns, Sims was actually listed as a limited participation during practices leading up to Cincinnati's 35-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when during Thursday's practice, Sims suffered another injury that's being cited as the reason his season prematurely ended this week.
While the injury may float through your casual Bengals fan who may watch a Bengals game on television if there's nothing to clean around the house or places to go with the wife who happens to plan all of her womanly things during football Sunday (the type of thing that defines major villains in video games), the injury does pose a somewhat minor issue with the defense.
Excluding the 18 snaps against the Cleveland Browns, Sims was averaging well over 25 snaps per game, which was more than Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker. And he wasn't just a warm body occupying a space of dirt. Well, he actually was -- because few men could move the beastly. But that's the role he provided the Bengals defense while still posting 121 tackles and five quarterback sacks in 52 games played with 23 career starts in four seasons.
As the team prepares the rest of the season without Sims, who is entering the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, should the Bengals sign him back?
Avoidance Of Using A Draft Pick
The Bengals will have multiple areas to address during the NFL draft. They'll need to find improvements at wide receiver, offensive line and all across the secondary to start and perhaps at linebacker and even the defensive line based on expiring contracts. Adding another need like a defensive tackle to replace Sims during the NFL draft will be completely unnecessary when you have a perfectly good run stuffing defensive tackle already integrated into the system that Mike Zimmer implemented.
That doesn't mean that the Bengals won't address defensive line when you consider names like Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker will also have expiring contracts after the end of this year. However it makes more sense to seal Sims for a handful of seasons, checking that off from the offseason task list.
Granted as of now the Cincinnati Bengals have nine picks for the 2012 NFL Draft, and most likely a compensatory pick or two. So if they need to draft a defensive tackle, they'll have the ability and room to do it. At the same time the team would find themselves in a better situation with rebuilding their depth and the offensive components being targeted with those draft picks and helping the team improve overall by eliminating the need to replace Sims.
Manageable Free Market Expectations/Contract
Obviously the contract that Sims signs will have to reflect his role. You're not going to sign him to a five-year deal worth $25 million like the Seahawks did with Brandon Mebane before training camp this year. At the same time Mebane is a starter whereas Sims isn't. Ron Edwards, who started 29 games in 2009 and 2010 with the Kansas City Chiefs, signed a three-year deal with the Carolinas Panthers for $8.25 million.
Other the other hand, Tony McDaniel re-signed with the Miami Dolphins inking a two-year deal worth $6 million -- a deal much closer to what Sims would probably sign to stay in Cincinnati. One has to ask at that point what are you willing to pay to keep your depth intact and strong -- something few in the Bengals front office ever ask.
But the reality is we're not losing one of the league's premiere tackles; Sims has been a run-stuffing two-down type of defensive tackle that's largely succeeded with the team's incorporation of a defensive line rotation that's played exceptional this season.
That being said I wouldn't blame Sims for testing the market. In fact he should do that, especially if he believes his value is near starter-level. At the same time the Bengals need to keep their depth strong if they want to make a run next season with the constant presence of injury always hovering over every player that steps onto the field.
Cohesiveness Of Effective Rotation
With Pat Sims alongside Domata Peko during run-obvious situations, it gave opposing offenses trouble when trying to run between the tackles.
It also allowed guys like Geno Atkins and Jonathan Fanene, who often slide inside during obvious pass rushing downs, a breather that eventually led to fresher legs later in the game when the team needed that pass rush to be effective.
Maturity And Growth Continues Building
When Sims joined the Bengals following the 2008 NFL Draft, he wasn't particularly consistent. He'd make a good play here, a good play there. But generally he struggled, even against the run. His rise has really taken place in the each of the past two seasons.
According to Pro Football Focus, Sims posted the best run defense grade amongst all defensive lineman still on the roster during the 2010 season. Due to the play of Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker, all scoring incredibly high grades against the run this season, Sims was a little lost in the shuffle.
That being said one of the hardest positions to grade in football is defensive tackle. Statistics aren't the only bona fide way to determine a player's worth. Domata Peko, who should be a guest on Sons of Anarchy, doesn't produce eye-popping numbers. Through 12 games this year he's posted 48 tackles and 1.5 quarterback sacks. Yet he's arguably having his best season, especially as a run defender.
It isn't the tackles that's setting him apart; it's occupying as many offensive linemen as possible while clogging the point of attack and allowing his comrades in on all of the fun. It's not sexy. It's grunt work. It's not the work that earns ticker-tape parades. It's the work that earns deep respect with the teammates because the effectiveness causes such a ripple that helps the team succeed overall.