With how Trevor Robinson performed for the injured Kyle Cook last year, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis acknowledged, during the NFL Combine in February, that there will be a competition between the two. The prize? Starting center for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. For his part, Cook has admitted that a competition will be good, not only for the team, but for himself as well.
"If anything it is one more challenge for me to overcome. You do whatever you can to make this team and yourself better," Cook told the Cincinnati Enquirer in early June. "I don't have a say, but if it is up to the way I play, perform and lead, I would like to think I still be here."
The loser of that competition is expected to come off the bench to backup the other.
In the meantime, offensive guard Travelle Wharton started the preseason as the starting left guard last year, but suffered a season-ending injury during the first preseason game. Fortunately for Cincinnati, Clint Boling stepped in and played beautifully. Presumably there's a competition brewing but it's unknown when or if Wharton will begin practicing as he rehabilitates his knee. If Boling wins, then Wharton is projected as a backup guard.
"The thinking is the guy that doesn't start is the first guard-center off the bench," writes Geoff Hobson on Bengals.com reflecting on the competition at center. "If that guy is Cook, who signed a contract extension before the '11 season, the Bengals have to figure out if that's backup money but it would seem well worth it to make sure the middle is covered."
Cook is signed through 2015 with a $3.34 million cap hit each season. And if Cincinnati releases Cook this year, they face $1.92 million in dead money -- which might be ideal with contract extensions coming for Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, and Andy Dalton after this season (presuming Atkins isn't signed by the start of the regular season).
We highly doubt this conversation is taking place, however. Even if Cook fails to beat out Robinson, the benefits for Cincinnati having an experienced center on the bench is too strong. After all, Robinson isn't necessarily the definition of durability right now either (missed time last year and sat out during this year's offseason training program).
On the other hand, Wharton's cap number is $3.375 million this year (and next), with a $1 million penalty if the team releases him before the regular season. If Cook or Robinson become the first center-guard off the bench, we can't envision a scenario that involves Cincinnati keeping Wharton's salary on the books. And there's no way Cincinnati has two backup offensive linemen making a combined 5.175 million in base salary ($6.715 million against the cap) on the bench.