If we were to compare Nate Livings return to Cincinnati, it would be more Keith Rivers or Frostee Rucker than Carson Palmer; at best a minor story that fades into the background once the initial reminder surfaces. Yet it's been a well-traveled story throughout the season. Frostee Rucker returned, even generated a quarterback sack in two games. Chad Johnson was supposed to return with Miami, but was handed his walking papers after he spent a preseason night in jail. We tend to forget that Andre Caldwell signed with Denver -- and I think the Broncos have too.
This weekend the Bengals will host former left guard Nate Livings, who started 47 games in Cincinnati prior to signing a five-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys worth $18.7 million with $6.2 million guaranteed. When the announcement was made that he was leaving for Dallas on March 16, we wrote:
Shouts of joy now reverberate throughout Cincinnati. Sailors kiss nurses in Fountain Square, confetti falls from the sky and all of Zion does a freaky half-naked dance under busted water pipes.
(you should read the comments to see the slight overreactions to the early days in free agency this year)
During his stay with the Bengals, despite not being a favorite among many fans, Livings was serviceable, though highly inconsistent. For example he had a decent performance against the Buffalo Bills in Week Four, then collapsed in Week Five against the Jaguars. Good performances against the Ravens (both times), but the second Cleveland game was rated as his second-worst last season. When the season was finished, Pro Football Focus gave him a -3.9 run blocking grade while also allowing three sacks and 17 pressures. There was no way that the Bengals would (or should) have offered a competing deal.
We asked Dave Halprin with Blogging by the Boys, SB Nation's excellent Dallas Cowboys site, how Livings is doing this year.
Livings is doing steady work for the Cowboys, but Tyron Smith is our most-talented lineman, even if he's had some sophomore struggles this year. My observation is that there's nothing spectacular about Livings, but he's certainly doing much better than the reputation that preceded him. Now, on the Cowboys offensive line, being ranked above the other players is like the one-eyed man being king in the land of the blind. It's not really saying much Still, we're pretty happy with his contributions so far.
Indeed PFF agrees with the assessment. Through 12 games this year, Livings has scored a 9.4 run blocking score, though his pass blocking has taken a nose dive, allowing six quarterback sacks and his first season-long negative pass blocking score since 2010. Livings has also shown similar inconsistency, though not as oscillating as with Cincinnati. In the last three weeks, following a strong performance against the Cleveland Browns, he struggled against the Redskins then rebounded during Dallas' recent win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Livings had a slight issue with a knee this week, sitting out during Thursday's practice, but listed as probable for his return to Cincinnati on Sunday. Geno "Sacks" Atkins will be the first to welcome Livings home.