Anthony Collins: "I'm a starter, no doubt about it"

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Collins could be playing his final regular season game in a Bengals uniform this weekend.

The Cincinnati Bengals will have financial choices this offseason, despite having a projected $22 million available under the 2014 cap.

Michael Johnson will be a free agent. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are eligible to work contract extensions. Jermaine Gresham will be entering the final year of his existing contact in 2014. Will they want to negotiate an extension or do they plan on moving on with Tyler Eifert in the wing. Domata Peko, Rey Maualuga, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mike Nugent, Terence Newman, Clint Boling will all be free agents after the '14 season.

But that's next year.

This year may require some sacrifice.

Along with Johnson, Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Collins will enter the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Gone are the days of backup money, like the two-year deal worth $2.5 million that he signed on March 23, 2012..

"I’m a starter; ain’t no doubt about it," Collins said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Even if some team wants to get me and put me on the bench, I’m going to work like a starter. Period."

I ain't doubtin' that he's starter quality. Are you doubting? Nope, neither are we. But you might be paying him as such too. If offered a fair deal to stay in Cincinnati, Collins would swipe at that opportunity without a second thought.

"I love Cincinnati," he said. "This is my family. If Cincinnati wants me back, damn right I’ll be back."

But Cincinnati won't sign him to a contract similar to what Andre Smith received -- who is earning $6 million a year with at least $5 million guaranteed -- unless Collins is specifically signed to be the team's long-term solution at left tackle, bouncing Clint Boling out at left guard for Andrew Whitworth.

A solution that Cincinnati should think hard about.

Collins hasn't allowed a quarterback sack on 292 passing plays and only nine pressures total for a pass blocking efficiency score of 97.6, which ranks first among all offensive tackles in the NFL. On the other hand, despite playing 526 total snaps, the 234 run blocking plays hasn't scored nearly as well with a -3.4, which ranks second to last on Cincinnati's offensive line (behind Kyle Cook and Clint Boling).

Since Cincinnati's reconfiguration on the offensive line with Collins at left tackle and Whitworth at left guard against the San Diego Chargers, the Bengals are averaging 114 yards rushing per game, having allowed only three quarterback sacks during that four-game stretch.

That says something.

Writes Coley Harvey with ESPN:

Some might argue that this season is all the evidence Collins needs to prove he is following a similar path. For that reason, it probably shouldn't be a surprise if negotiations hover around or just above the $4.5-million-per-year mark. For now, though, Collins is keeping his mind clear of the numbers and focusing on the task at hand: beating Baltimore and advancing into the postseason.

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