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Reviewing whether Bengals should re-sign Domata Peko

Peko has been one of the Bengals’ locker room leaders, but his play has declined and the Bengals should have a replacement on the roster.

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

The Bengals have a number of long-time players on the team who the organization drafted and then keep around, never allowing them to move on to other teams in free agency. Drafting well so that players eventually outgrow the team is probably a good problem to have, but it can get frustrating when the Bengals keep players on the roster for too long and see their play decline in their later years. Domata Peko has been incredibly valuable to the Bengals throughout his career, but it could be getting to the time to say goodbye.

Peko has never been one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, but he has been a reliable starter for the Bengals who regularly posted at least a couple of sacks and 20+ tackles every season. He was drafted by the Bengals in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft and has been with the team ever since. He received his first extension (five years) with the team in 2008 after establishing himself as a full-time starter, and another two-year extension after a solid 2013 season (52 combined tackles, 3.0 sacks).

He recorded arguably his best season as a pro in 2015 (35 combined tackles, 5.0 sacks, one pass deflection), although he significantly regressed in many areas in 2016, most notably, notching no sacks. Given his age and current level of production, is it worth bringing him back for another year or two?

Career stats

171 games played: 516 combined tackles, 18.5 sacks, 12 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries.

2016 season stats

16 games played: 37 combined tackles, 0 sacks, 3 pass deflections

Case against re-signing Peko

Peko has never been a particularly productive starter. Even in 2015, when he recorded a career high number of sacks, it was still only five. The fact that he didn’t even bring down the quarterback once in 2016 is problematic. Furthermore, his contributions in other areas weren’t enough to make up for that one underwhelming aspect of his game.

The $3,725,000 the Bengals spent on Peko in 2016 could have been used to try to avoid losing as many key unrestricted free agents as they lost last offseason, without losing much production at defensive tackle. It would have been a difficult decision to make him a cap casualty after a solid 2015 season, but at this point, it should be obvious to the Bengals that he is past the point where he can be an effective starter. The Bengals have plenty of young talent at defensive tackle, so there should be no reason they need to continue to cling to an aging player who is far past his prime.

Argument for re-signing Peko

Even though he should not be a starter, there could still be a place for Peko with the team. If the Bengals were to re-sign Peko to a more team-friendly contract, his presence as a veteran backup and locker room leader would be invaluable to a defensive tackle position that is looking for a young complement to the great Geno Atkins. The Bengals still don’t know what they have in Andrew Billings, Marcus Hardison or DeShawn Williams enough to know they can start next season. None have played an NFL snap, though all three have great potential.

Therefore, it makes sense to re-sign Peko as a backup plan. He will be 33 halfway through next season and has yet to have a particularly spectacular season in his career, so it’s unlikely he’ll attract much attention elsewhere. And thus, the Bengals should be able to sign him to a low-cost deal. Where else are the Bengals going to find a reliable veteran with as much experience as he has with the team? If he is willing to accept reducing his role in the lineup going forward, there’s little downside of bringing him back next season.

Priority to re-sign: Medium to low