After Geoff Hobson originally broke the story, the Cincinnati Bengals announced the signing of offensive tackle Eric Winston on Tuesday. He will wear No. 73. To make room, they've released offensive tackle Jamon Meredith.
Winston confirmed the report on his Twitter account.
Winston, an eight-year veteran who has played for the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals, started every game at right tackle between 2007-13. After a spell on Seattle's roster during training camp, Winston was released by the Seahawks and hasn't played a snap this season.
Alright then, now that that's out of the way.
Who is Eric Winston? Let me light the cigar and pour spiced rum into this crystal glass while shuffling through old papers at the archive at Minas Tirith. Let's get to the obvious:
During his final (and only) season with the Arizona Cardinals, Winston submitted a Pro Football Focus score of -21.1. He scored a -4.7 in run blocking and -13.3 in pass protection. Despite those numbers in 2013, Winston was far better in previous seasons -- especially on teams with a strong attitude toward their running game.
RELEASED AND HARD-TO-FIND WORK? OK, next and for no other reason than to promote my own confusion, let's explore his travels:
Winston, who signed a five-year extension worth $30 million in 2009 with Houston, was released with two years remaining on that deal. At the time, the transaction cleared $5.5 million in base salary off their books. Whether or not that was the reason for the release, we're not going to speculate... but it is a legitimate reason.
It wasn't long before Winston signed a four-year deal worth $22 million with $4 million guaranteed with Kansas City on March 17, 2012. By March 6, 2013, less than a year after signing the four-year deal, the Chiefs released him. The transaction allowed Kansas City to save $3.5 million against their cap. However, Winston, at the time, believed that he was cut for philosophical reasons (and that Kansas City was going to draft an offensive tackle).
"They decided to go in that direction that they did," Winston said via SB Nation's Arrowhead Pride. "You gotta respect that. I respect them. They could've waited for a while before releasing me but they're doing it now and hopefully land on my feet. They didn't say this so don't quote me, I'm not putting words in their mouth but I'm just assuming with the way the draft is shaping up and then deciding they wanted to hold onto Branden Albert that it looks like they'll probably end up taking a tackle. And you're not going to pay three guys a bunch of money."
Kansas City selected Eric Fisher first overall during the 2013 NFL draft.
During the offseason in 2013, Winston couldn't find work until the Arizona Cardinals approached him on July 25, 2013. However, as you probably noted with the date, the slow start during his lone season in Arizona could be attributed to being a training camp signee, replacing Bobbie Massie "who struggled with mental errors in a new offensive scheme." As the season went on, his performances significantly improved.
He didn't return after the season.
Without sniffing much interest during the offseason, Winston stayed in shape by working out with Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. He worked out or visited with the Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and had a planned visit with the St. Louis Rams cancelled.
"It's tough," Winston said via ESPN earlier this year. "It's tough on me. It's tough on the family. There's so many balls in the air right now. It's just a stressful time. But, unfortunately, sometimes when you get late in your career it's the nature of the business, as well."
"It’s more of the right situation not presenting itself," Winston said in the ESPN story. "Last year, I thought Arizona was a good spot for me and I think going forward I’m looking for that same kind of opportunity."
Seattle, dealing with the prospect of replacing Breno Giacomini, who left for the New York Jets, signed Winston to a one-year deal. He was competing with Michael Bowie and rookie Justin Britt -- Bowie, at the time, was also nursing a shoulder injury and Seattle needed bodies.
The Seahawks released Winston one month later.
Since then, Winston hasn't played football or been employed by an NFL organization. There were scheduled visits with the Philadelphia Eagles (Sept. 9) and Minnesota Vikings (Nov. 25). Ed Werner also added the Atlanta Falcons to Winston's list of workouts.
ANDREW WHITWORTH APPROVES. Here's a bit of trivia. Winston and Whitworth, both selections during the 2006 NFL draft, have known each other since high school.
"He’s a good guy to pick up at this time of year. He’s played a ton of football," Whitworth said via Bengals.com. "He’s a guy I know fits in with us as far as the effort and the attitude he plays the game with. He’s a physical guy, he played in the Houston Texans’ zone scheme stuff, he’s a finisher type guy. Whether he’s in there as a safety net or having to play for you, he’s got a lot of experience."
Winston played on Cedric Benson’s Midland, Texas high school team that lost to Whitworth’s West Monroe High School team in Louisiana. Whitworth hosted him for his visit to LSU before Winston opted for the University of Miami and they were roommates at the 2006 NFL scouting combine. Before Whitworth chose not to run for re-election this year as the Bengals NFLPA rep, they were involved together in the union.
THE NARRATIVE right now is that Winston is better than Marshall Newhouse, who Cincinnati signed during the offseason as a backup. Considering that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called Newhouse a candidate at right tackle, with left guard Clint Boling being another, there was clearly instability.
Yes. Theoretically he's better than Newhouse... Winston hasn't played a regular season game since Dec. 29, 2013 -- whether or not he's better/worse than Newhouse needs a little confirmation at this stage.
WHEN WE SEE Winston will be determined by his conditioning. Not having a team to call home since August is a long time. If he has kept in shape, it's possible that he plays this weekend when Cincinnati hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, more reasonable speculation may hint at a Week 15 debut in Cleveland.