When Cincinnati signed Andrew Whitworth to a one-year extension last week, they resolved two standing issues: 1) Secured another starting offensive lineman for next season and 2) Took care of Whitworth, who provides the quality of leadership and character the coaching staff craves.
"I've always wanted to be a Cincinnati Bengal and that's still the case right now and that's always where I wanted to play and where I wanted to finish playing," Whitworth said earlier this week. "And it's the only helmet I ever wanted to wear. So that stays true to this point, so I'm very happy."
Last week's extension promoted continuity within the Bengals' offensive line, which has maintained a similar configuration since 2012, with one exception: Center Russell Bodine joined the Bengals last season as a rookie, following Kyle Cook's release and eventual retirement. At one point earlier this year, contractual issues threatened their cohesive integrity as Clint Boling was scheduled to enter free agency and Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith and Kevin Zeiter were entering the final year of their respective deals. Since then, the Bengals secured Boling to a five-year contract, picked up the fifth-year option on Zeitler and secured Whitworth on, what we presume will be, rolling one-year extensions until retirement.
"You never know," Whitworth replied to a question asking he'll play beyond 2016. "At this point it becomes the risk of playing football, all the things that go into being a father, being a husband, all those things. Right now, the best thing for me and also for the organization is to keep it the way it is and go forward that way. If there's more football after all that, we'll figure that out. My thing is to be here. That's why it's a deal that works for them and works for me."
Raise your hand if you're disappointed that human beings like Whitworth are unable to spout prophesies about how their lives will look two years from now.
What's more comforting is that Cincinnati's configuration with the offensive line will be projected similarly in 2016, with one exception: Andre Smith's unanswered contract situation appears tricky and based on his history of significant injuries -- has only played 10 games or more in three of his first six seasons -- it seems unlikely that Smith will be retained, especially with the introduction of rookies Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.
Another benefit of keeping Whitworth in Cincinnati for (at least) another year, is his obvious leadership.
When Cincinnati's lockerroom nearly fractured with the sudden retirement threat from Carson Palmer, forcing the Bengals to draft Andy Dalton, it was Whitworth who demanded unity behind Dalton. "We just kind of said, 'you can sit around and complain about the situation we are in or we can say, we have no excuses, no reason to doubt, everyone thinks we can't do it anyway so let's go out and win football games,'" Whitworth said via a Yahoo! Sports story. "We said, 'the truth is we have a young kid who knows what he's doing and if we play well around him, we'll have success.'"
The NFL locked out their players during the spring and summer of 2011, forcing players to schedule and choreograph their own workouts and practices. It was Whitworth, with defensive tackle Domata Peko, who staged those practices while coaches sat helplessly off to the side. One could argue that these offseason sessions translated into a surprising berth into the 2011 postseason because it allowed rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to develop chemistry as everyone was also learning the playbook of the team's newest offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden.
Whitworth symbolically passed the "leadership baton" to Dalton prior to training camp this year, which in of itself presents another selfless act of leadership. "[Andrew] Whitworth is cutting his ties to allow Andy to keep going, as Whit would say," Lewis said via ESPN in late July. "He's passed the baton to Andy and he's happy to give it up. That's a good thing." We suspect Whitworth, who used to represent Bengals players with the NFL Players Association, remains a source of leadership in Cincinnati's lockerroom.
In the end, save for a little job security, Whitworth has a singular focus that typically nags most NFL players. The Super Bowl.
"I want Andy Dalton and A.J. Green and Adam Jones and all these guys in this locker room to have an opportunity to win a Super Bowl and all of us to win a Super Bowl together. That's the biggest factor for me," Whitworth said. "The biggest triumphs I've had, it's not on the field, it's the individual guys in this locker room. I know what I've been for that guy. I know how many times he's told me that. I know the way they respect and honor me. To me that's the most important thing and always will be."