The Bengals suffered many losses in terms of starting and reserve talent this offseason. One of the more underrated departures was that of rotational defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who established himself as one of the better backup defensive linemen in the NFL in his four year stint with the Bengals from 2012-2015.
His 17.5 sacks, 70 tackles, six passes deflected, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and one fumble returned for a touchdown in those four years were enough to convince the Detroit Lions that he deserved an $885,000 pay day to play for their team. Unfortunately, an abdomen injury suffered in early October led to his release from the Lions a little more than a week later. His return to the free agent market allowed the Bengals to bring him back to the squad for just about half of the price that Detroit paid in the offseason ($468,529).
The move came after defensive coordinator Paul Guenther hinted that the Bengals’ poor defensive effort against the Redskins in London would be met with some personnel changes during the bye week. And Gilberry’s signing does pose a threat to under performing members of the Bengals’ defensive line.
The signing itself was clearly a statement for the Bengals to their linemen. In addition, Gilberry’s performance in his first game back was better than anyone would have expected. With a run stop and a QB hit recorded in 30 snaps, Gilberry exceeded most expectations for the kind of impact he would have after largely doing nothing with the Lions.
To point out the two most obvious names put on notice by this signing; the Bengals seem to be telling reserve defensive ends Margus Hunt and Will Clarke that they need to step up their game immediately. After strong starts to the season, both Hunt and Clarke have fallen off in recent weeks, which doesn’t bode well for the Bengals’ future at the defensive end position. The starters aren’t going to be around forever, so the Bengals need to start seeing more out of their young, developing players if they are going to continue pursuing their development. And, because Gilberry was active, Hunt was not. That goes to show how highly the team things of the defensive end who’s in a contract year.
One somewhat surprise player who could be impacted by the signing and subsequent impressive performance by Gilberry is starting defensive end Michael Johnson. After playing relatively well in 2015, Johnson has failed to make much of a positive impact consistently in 2016. If both trends continue, Gilberry could have a clear opportunity to take more and more snaps away from Johnson. That’s not to say Gilberry will take Johnson’s starting spot, but it would certainly follow the idea that the Bengals are planning to hold players accountable for their poor performances moving forward.
Ultimately, the results of Gilberry rejoining the team are going to take time to determine. He had a good start and the poor performances from his position mates in East Rutherford certainly make you think about the possibilities. But, he’s still a ninth year veteran who has never managed to hold down a starting spot in the NFL. So with that in mind, temper your expectations when considering if Gilberry can help this Bengals team find success. At the same time, for what he does bring to the field, it seem the Bengals made a good call by bringing him in at the midpoint of the season.