Despite the Bengals’ struggles this year, Andrew Whitworth has been a bright spot throughout this 5-9-1 disappointment.
Whitworth, who just turned 35 on Dec. 12, will finish up his 11th NFL season on Sunday when the Bengals host the Ravens in their regular-season finale. Even though he’s in his mid 30s now, Whitworth is still playing at a high level at the all-important left tackle spot.
Entering Week 17, Whitworth has the fifth-highest Pro Football Focus grade of any NFL offensive lineman, trailing only Trent Williams, Travis Frederick, Marshal Yanda, and David Bakhtiari.
However, Whitworth is on the final year of his contract and at an age where retirement is always a possibility. It’s also possible the Bengals decide they’re ready to move on, though it’s hard to see them reaching that conclusion with their current roster.
But it is possible the Bengals try and bring Whitworth back to play guard next year. After all, that’s where they moved him for last week’s game vs the Texans, filling in for the injured Clint Boling.
Boling is now on I.R., which means Whitworth may get one more start there this year, though he doesn’t sound too high on it.
“My first choice is to play left tackle in 2017 somewhere,” Whitworth told Bengals.com. “Hopefully here. My No. 1 choice is here. To me it’s about putting the best people out there playing football. I think I have a talent that’s rare at left tackle in pass protection. There are just not many guys out there that are good at that level.”
Though playing guard seems easier, Whitworth doesn’t see it that way, at least in terms of the wear and tear it puts on one’s body compared to offensive tackle.
“Guard is a whole other world,” Whitworth said. “It’s physical, banged up, a lot guys are bruised and battered. It’s a different style of football in there. It’s why you see a lot of guards who are big and heavy. Rhinoceros-built guys. That’s why you don’t see a lot of tall, rangy 6-7 guys in there.”
Whitworth even admitted that the thought of Sunday’s finale being his last game in Bengals stripes has crossed his mind.
It’s clear that re-signing with the Bengals will be Whitworth’s No. 1 priority, but he’ll be looking to do so with some kind of commitment to keeping him at left tackle. As it stands, the Bengals should want to re-sign Whitworth next offseason with Jake Fisher having very limited playing time so far, Eric Winston becoming a free agent, and Cedric Ogbuehi struggling to do anything right.
It’s still unclear where the futures of both Fisher and Ogbuehi are, though Fisher at right tackle has been promising at times in recent weeks. Nothing about Ogbuehi has been promising, which should only make it easier for the Bengals to make re-signing Whitworth one of their top priorities.