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Bengals must move on from Domata Peko

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If locker room leadership is the reasoning behind the Bengals wanting to retain Domata Peko, it’s time for other players to step up as leaders.

Miami Dolphins v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We’re not even a month into the offseason and there have already been two reports that the Bengals plan to re-sign veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko this offseason.

The latest comes from Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson who writes the following:

With the Bengals looking to re-sign long-time locker room leaders Whitworth and nose tackle Domata Peko, he’s (Marvin Lewis) looking for reserves that can‘t be reserved to eventually succeed them down the road after the next few seasons.

It’s great to hear the Bengals want to re-sign Whitworth, and of course, they should. But, Peko does not deserve another contract in Cincinnati.

Peko has spent 11 seasons with the Bengals and at 32-years-old, he just played one of his worst seasons in the NFL (if not his worst), which included zero sacks on the season. In 2016, Peko recorded 37 tackles and 3 passes defended. In 2015, he had two fewer tackles, but a career-high 5.0 sacks. Those sacks helped justify Peko keeping his job in Cincinnati this season. But, entering free agency this March, it seems like the perfect time for the Bengals to thank Peko for more than a decade with the team and move on to a younger player who can replace him and play more effectively.

But with this report, an earlier one from Katherine Terrell and a knowledge of the Bengals’ loyalty to their veterans, it’s more likely than not that Peko is re-signed, whether or not he deserves to be.

I simply can’t get behind this as a passionate fan who wants the Bengals to win games. The arguments for keeping Peko have nothing to do with his play (as he was quite frankly bad in 2016). Peko was ranked as PFF's 104th interior defender this season, and had a 42.9 overall grade, deemed as poor by the service. You probably haven't heard of most of the 23 guys ranked behind him, as they're largely irrelevant in the NFL.

Since his play isn’t the reason the Bengals would want to keep him in Cincinnati, instead, the arguments for keeping Peko around relate to his locker room presence and being a great, family guy. I love that Peko has been a locker room leader and someone who Bengals players and staff love, trust and rely on for leadership. That’s terrific and there’s nothing better than a great player who adds to the locker room in a positive way. But, locker room presence and being a great guy are not reasons to employ a sub-par player in the NFL. They’re qualities that can make a good player great or a great player excellent. But in the NFL, teams simply can’t afford to have a player on their 53-man roster for only his locker room presence. And if the Bengals were to employ Peko in 2017, it would not be for his play.

How are young players like DeShawn Williams, Marcus Hardison and Andrew Billings going to learn, grow and find playing time on defense if the Bengals continue to employ Peko? The young players are in Cincinnati, in place to take over and help lead a youth movement. What would re-signing Peko do to a Bengals’ defense that was the second oldest in the league in 2016? Make it older.

The Bengals need to focus on getting better, getting younger, developing talent for the future and even shaping their younger players on defense into more vocal leaders. The way to do that is by parting ways with Peko while he’s a free agent and moving on to better and younger players who can be pushed to do better and not only step up on the field, but in the locker room, too.

If the Bengals want to prove they’re actually interested in winning and making a run at the Super Bowl (let alone notch a playoff win), the way to do that is not by wasting time, money and a roster spot on Peko.

This isn’t meant to be me hating on Peko. I certainly appreciate Peko for his more than 500 tackles and more than a decade of playing time in Cincinnati. This is more a reaction to the Bengals’ strange way of handling players who don’t deserve to keep their jobs. The team needs to employee quality defensive lineman who can terrorize opposing quarterbacks and strike fear in the opposition. That wasn’t the case in 2016, outside of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, who need at least average players alongside them for the Bengals’ defensive line to return to dominance.

Employing players exclusively due to their locker room presence isn’t the way to win in the NFL and the Bengals should move forward without Peko in 2017.