During the early days of the new year in 2007, the Cincinnati Bengals justly rewarded defensive end Robert Geathers with a six-year deal worth $33.75 million and $12.7 million guaranteed. The former fourth round draft pick from the 2004 NFL draft registered 10.5 quarterback sacks, speculating a resolve that the team finally capitalized on a pure pass rusher this team sorely lacked. Though briefly converted as an outside linebacker the following season (due to accumulating injuries at the position), little did we know at the time that Geathers would require another 58 games from 2007 through 2010 just to equal the same mark that he set in 2007.
For a time Geathers was the aim of fans' voracious frustration. Much of that frustration was in conjunction to a free agent signing two years later with Antwan Odom (five-year deal worth $29.5 million and $11.5 million guaranteed signed in 2008), effectively drawing both defensive ends into a parallel argument due to their poor production compared to the investment the team put into both pass rushers.
Odom was eventually released due to a wide-ranging of concerns, ranging from durability issues (only played 26 of 48 games) to a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance substance policy. Let's not get into what happened after he left Cincinnati.
Not only did Geathers remain with the Bengals, he would go on to start 13 games, generating 39 tackles and 2.5 quarterback sacks in 2011. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 13, Geathers registered six tackles, 1.5 quarterback sacks, a tackle-for-loss and a quarterback pressure. He followed that up with a six-tackle performance (including one for loss) against the Baltimore Ravens, then registering another seven tackles and a four-yard sack on Cleveland's Colt McCoy the following week.
On the other hand, according to Pro Football Focus, Geathers' -7.4 score ranked worst on Cincinnati's defense, offering no positive grade either against the run or pass. It's the second time in as many seasons that Geathers graded as Cincinnati's worst defensive player and if you combine his score over the past three seasons, it accumulates to a -35.5.
Entering the final year under contract, Geathers is due $4.2 million in base salary in 2012.
Do the Bengals keep him or will he be released before the 2012 regular season?
The benefits of keeping him is that it relies on depth and there's little reason to believe that the Bengals will release him until otherwise certain that he'll be replaced -- think insurance. Carlos Dunlap suffered a hamstring injury midway through the season (missing four games) and wasn't necessarily the demon he was in the first half of the season or the second half last year. Though largely strong as steel, Fanene did miss 14 games in 2010 and Frostee Rucker failed to play more than 12 games during any of his first five seasons with the Bengals before playing a full 16-game schedule in 2011.
Which brings us to another point. Though we don't expect the team to have any salary cap problems -- other than being listed on top-five lists for having the most cap space -- Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene will enter free agency this year. If the issue becomes one of money, then the team could easily free that up by keeping two of their more productive linemen and releasing Geathers. The only other option is to renegotiate a reasonable extension where he's not one of the highest paid players on the team, but still offering limited depth in case of injury. After all he was part of the eight-man rotation that constituted one of the best defensive lines Cincinnati has seen for some time.
It wouldn't surprise us if the team went in either direction.
Does Geathers offer anything substantial that warrants a $4.2 million salary? The well-balanced reaction would easily suggest no. Nor would it surprise us if the team keeps Geathers for one more season to finish out his existing deal.
Though not a critical question this offseason, it will be one that has to be asked.