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Considering a long-term plan for Andrew Whitworth and the Bengals

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The Bengals should make every effort to keep Whitworth around as long as he’s playing at his current level. And then after that, maybe he can become a coach in Cincinnati.

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One of the Bengals’ biggest names due for a contract extension in 2017 is Andrew Whitworth. The Bengals’ long-time veteran offensive lineman has held down the left tackle position since he was moved to the position from guard in 2009. He was drafted by the Bengals as a guard in 2006, but has become an incredibly successful offensive tackle in the league, receiving a Pro Bowl berth in three of the last five seasons (2012, 2015, 2016).

Granted, he made it in 2012 and 2016 as an alternate after players who received more votes declined to participate in the game. But, a big part of that has to do with the lack of fanfare players in Cincinnati receive. Even at 35-years-old, Whitworth is still playing well enough that many believe his Pro Bowl berth shouldn’t have required others to decline.

“He deserved to go as a regular, not as an alternate,” Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “That’s how well he’s playing as he gets older.”

That said, you won’t hear Whitworth boasting about the honor. He is about as humble as they come.

“I know all those guys. It’s humbling to be mentioned in the same stratosphere with them,” Whitworth said. “It’s an honor. But I think anyone who knows me knows I don’t see myself with guys like that.”

But, he should see himself with guys like that. He has been a staple for the Bengals through a team rebuild from 2010-2011, through multiple coaching and personnel changes and was one of two consistently great member of the Bengals’ offensive line this past season. Despite the Bengals’ abysmal 41 sacks given up in 2016 (seventh most in the NFL), Whitworth finished this season as Pro Football Focus’ second highest rated left tackle in the NFL (91.3).

For most players at Whitworth’s age (35), they would be winding down in the twilight of their career. Not Whitworth. He is still playing at the top of his game, and the Bengals should absolutely continue to keep him around as a key part of the offensive line. At the very least, the Bengals should be hoping to bring him back in 2017 and hopefully, another year after that through 2018.

That said, Whitworth’s presence in the Bengals’ locker room is absolutely irreplaceable even beyond 2018. He has consistently been seen as one of the Bengals’ key leaders, yet he was willing to step aside when Andy Dalton was ready to step up and lead the offense. Additionally, when Clint Boling was hurt and the Bengals wanted to see Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle to test his potential, Whitworth agreed to switch positions for a game and play left guard. That was just one of countless ways he’s shown he’s a team player. The Bengals don’t want to lose such an influential personality, even after he’s finished playing football. Therefore, the Bengals might want to consider keeping him around until he retires and then moving him to the coaching staff.

It would certainly be a move that makes sense for both parties. As the Bengals attempt to bring in the new generation of linemen, a knowledgeable leader like Whitworth would be invaluable to their development. And if the Bengals show him loyalty by keeping him in Cincinnati until he decides to retire, Whitworth may be more inclined to accept a position like that with the Bengals, and stay in Cincinnati, where his family currently lives.

Whitworth doesn’t appear to be ready to retire by any means. If the Bengals were to fail to re-sign him, it would be a shock to see him not sign with another team. He has yet to express any desire to stop playing football and he is still playing at a high enough level that he would likely receive a sizeable contract offer from another team.

Unfortunately, even Whitworth is bound to succumb to the clutches of father time eventually. He will be 37 years old after 2018 and it will be very difficult for him to continue playing at such a high level. Even the great Munoz only made it to 34-years-old before ultimately deciding to retire after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 1993 season began.

This is undoubtedly one of those ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ situations for both Whitworth and the Bengals. But, it should be something both parties are thinking about as Whitworth enters the twilight of his career in the NFL. When he is done playing in the NFL, will that be the end of his time with the Bengals? Or, can he continue to be a staple for the franchise for many more years to come? Only time will tell.