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Bengals 2015 Exit Interview: Tackle Eric Winston

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It's possible we've seen the last of Eric Winston in Bengals stripes, but never say never.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have annually had one of the NFL's better offensive lines, but there could be several changes coming at the position this offseason.

That's because three linemen are set to hit free agency, the oldest of which being Eric Winston. For the past two seasons, the 32-year-old Winston has been one of, if not the first lineman off the bench at both offensive tackle spots and sometimes at guard. He played in 13 games (2 starts) this past season after making four appearances (2 starts) in 2014.

He didn't join the Bengals until midway through the 2014 season, but picked up Paul Alexander's blocking scheme quickly enough that he ended up being the starting right tackle over the final three games (including the playoffs) of 2014. Winston eventually re-signed during the 2015 offseason and went on to be one of the team's key backup lineman this season.

Overall, Winston had a good showing in the little action he did see this past season, though he struggled when he was tossed into a starting role. He only started two games, one of which being a decent game against the Cleveland Browns, but then struggled against the Houston Texans. Both games saw Winston allow sacks, though they were to Paul Kruger and J.J. Watt, two of the NFL's best pass-rushers.

But Winston didn't offer much on the ground either as he struggled to maintain blocks and win the leverage battles when he was blocking one-on-one more as a starter. When he was a backup swing tackle or even a backup guard on rare occasions, he was more often double-teaming guys or chipping and moving to another man. He was much better in that role, but not enough so that the Bengals must re-sign him this offseason.

That and the fact Winston is 32-years-old mean the market for his services won't be much more than the veteran minimum, if even that. I do think Winston may re-sign with the Bengals if/when Andre Smith signs elsewhere. Cincinnati can probably afford to wait and target other guys in free agency and still have Winston available later on, maybe even after the NFL draft.

While the Bengals would probably like a younger lineman with more upside to take Winston's place as a backup, there's no guarantee they'll find one. For now, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are the only backup tackles, unless you count the recently-signed Darryl Baldwin.

The Bengals will likely add a couple of tackles this offseason, whether it's in the draft, free agency or re-signing someone like Winston. I do think the Bengals will go after other guys in free agency, but still end up re-signing Winston at some point this offseason.