When it comes to free agency, the Bengals have been very good at re-signing their home-grown talent.
But the case of Brandon Thompson will be an interesting one this offseason as we see how Cincinnati handles the four-year defensive tackle hitting free agency for the first time. Originally drafted in the third round out of Clemson in the 2012 NFL Draft, Thompson was one of the lesser-heralded picks of that draft, especially since he was the second tackle picked after Cincinnati grabbed Penn State star Devon Still in Round 2.
While Still had a the better college resume, there was no doubt over the course of the next four years that Thompson was the superior tackle. After playing in just three games as a rookie, Thompson played in 27 games over the next two years with seven starts, all of which came after Geno Atkins tore his ACL in 2013.
It's often forgotten that Atkins was playing at an All-Pro level that season and Thompson more than held his own as a starter and really helped offset the loss of Atkins after the injury. It looked at this point like Thompson was here to stay and help the Bengals maintain their top-10 defense for at least the rest of his rookie contract.
However, injuries have since plagued Thompson and helped keep him from reaching his full potential. A knee injury sidelined him from Week 3-7 in 2014, and he didn't play much after that as Atkins slowly came back into his own following his 2013 ACL tear.
Then this past season, Thompson was splitting time with Pat Sims and struggled just to be active on gamedays. Thompson appeared in just nine games and played 184 snaps. It did look like Thompson was finding a comfortable role as the season wore down, registering three-straight games being active with an average of 20 snaps during the final three games of the regular season...
But then, Thompson suffered what may be a career-altering injury in Week 17. He suffered a torn ACL in a win over the Baltimore Ravens, and that will undoubtedly cost him big time as he gets set to hit free agency for the first time. By no means was Thompson going to sign a big contract this offseason, but more than likely, he would have gotten a nice multi-year deal paying him $2-3 million per year.
Instead, he'll likely be forced to settle for a one-year prove-it deal that pays him around $1 million. That's a tough break, and you hate to see that happen to anyone, let alone a good guy like Thompson who had worked hard to get to this point.
As it stands, I do think the injury increases the likelihood he's brought back to Cincinnati. Even if the Bengals opt to re-sign Sims, it still would be good competition for those backup tackle spots.
I like the potential of Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams, but they're unknown commodities at this point, With the Bengals looking to contend for a Super Bowl, they need to have known commodities at every position going into training camp.
Thompson gives them just that, so long as he can rehab from his ACL tear in time to make an impact on next year's team. There's also the possibility of having him open the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) and have him join the team midseason.