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Reviewing whether Bengals should re-sign Wallace Gilberry in 2017

The Bengals let Gilberry walk in 2016, but have a chance to make a different decision in 2017. Will they?

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Wallace Gilberry was one of the Bengals’ many free agent losses during a rough 2016 offseason. He left for the Detroit Lions and signed a $1.25 million contract, with hopes of earning a starting position and proving himself in that regard. However, things didn’t work out for him in Detroit as he never really adjusted to his new system before being injured early on in the season. After landing on Injured Reserve four weeks into the season, the Lions released him to free agency. He remained on the open market for about a month before the Bengals signed him following a 3-4-1 start to the season.

His return helped wake up the Bengals’ struggling defense. In fact, they only gave up 100+ yards on the ground once in his five games back with the team, despite having allowed 100+ rushing yards in seven of the 11 games before his return. He was just a small part of the defensive resurgence, but, Gilberry certainly helped the unit, especially in regards to rushing the passer.

Therefore, Gilberry’s value to the Bengals should be seen as virtually equal, if not slightly increased, compared to when his contract was up at the end of last season. The team has a chance to do things differently this time around, but should they make the decision to bring him back or let him walk again in favor of finding newer, younger talent?

Career stats

124 games played in 9 seasons, 127 tackles, 34.0 sacks, seven forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 10 pass deflections.

2016 season stats

5 games played with Bengals: 8 tackles, 2.5 sacks

4 games played with Lions: 3 tackles

Case against re-signing Gilberry

Gilberry played very well in his five games back in Cincinnati. But, the performance was similar enough to how well he played before Detroit gave him a $1.25 million contract to leave Cincinnati in the first place. That was too much money for the Bengals to pay to re-sign the career backup defensive end at the time, and it would likely be too much again if another team wanted to take a chance on him.

His 2016 season proved that Detroit was the wrong system for him, but his performance coming back to Cincinnati proved he is still one of the more underrated defensive ends in the league. Another team with a more traditional commitment to the 4-3 defense and depth issues at defensive end could likely try to sign him. The Bengals don’t want to get into a bidding war for a 32-year-old player whom they could easily replace in the draft, so don’t be surprised if he leaves in free agency again.

Argument for re-signing Gilberry

The Bengals should learn from their mistake, having let Gilberry walk when his contract was up last season. Sure, they ended up signing him for much less than what he got with Detroit, but the Bengals losing him and then only having him play for five games threw a fairly sizable wrench into their production on the defensive line. Through the first 8 weeks, the Bengals’ defensive line struggled mightily despite significant much production from Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Gilberry’s return happened to come around the exact time the defensive line and the defense as a whole started improving. So, you can wager a solid guess that he was one of the missing pieces.

The combination of Margus Hunt and Will Clarke had it’s moments, but the Bengals clearly missed Gilberry’s rotational impact, especially with Michael Johnson underperforming so severely throughout much of the season. Given the contract he signed with the Bengals after coming back, my guess is that he probably left for Detroit to have a chance to be a starting defensive end. But, at this point, most teams looking to sign him will almost assuredly be looking for a backup.

Therefore, the Bengals shouldn’t have too many problems with leverage on the nine year veteran defensive end. His age might be a reason why the Bengals would decide to look elsewhere if a bidding war were to ensue for his services, but defensive ends aren’t known for breaking down early as much as other positions. So, if he’s still effective, he could be a good presence off the bench and in practice for any developing young defensive ends whom the Bengals might want to pick up in the offseason. The Bengals would be wise to sign him to a low-guarantees deal, where he could be cut before the season begins if he isn’t one of the best nine or 10 defensive lineman on the roster. He clearly was needed this season, and the Bengals didn’t realize that until the bye week; will he be needed next season?

Priority to re-sign: Medium