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Reviewing whether Bengals should re-sign Eric Winston

Should the Bengals bring back their safety valve at the tackle positions?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ offensive line was particularly bad at protecting the quarterback in 2016. Through much of the season, the Bengals were among the top three teams in total sacks allowed. A bit of a resurgence at the end of the season did see them finish with 41 sacks allowed, the seventh most in the NFL. With that said, the Bengals would be foolish to ignore this problem in the offseason.

Arguably the biggest reason the Bengals were so bad at pass protection in 2016 was the right tackle position being so unstable. Cedric Ogbuehi, who was playing his first season as a starter, after missing the majority of his rookie season recovering from injury, struggled mightily in the place of Andre Smith, who departed for Minnesota in the offseason. Therefore, an experienced veteran like Eric Winston, who was asked to fill in when Ogbuehi’s struggles became too much to handle, was invaluable to the position. Winston was much better than Ogbuehi when filling in, but still not someone you really want starting at the position. So, the Bengals are faced with the question: should they bring him back in 2017, or should they try to find someone younger with more potential to backup the right tackle spot. Additionally. Winston served as a backup at left tackle and both guard spots, too, adding to his value.

Career stats

157 games played, 125 games started: 6 tackles, 5 fumble recoveries

2016 season stats

16 games played, 2 games started: 1 fumble recovery

Case against re-signing Winston

Winston is a 33-year-old offensive lineman whose best days are long behind him. Gone are the days when he was a 16-game starter for the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Arizona Cardinals. Ever since he has been with the Bengals, he has never started more than two games in a season, acting as the number one backup off the bench for the guard and tackle positions. Granted, in his first season with the team (2014), he didn’t sign until December with only four games left in the season. Still, he was with the team much longer in 2015 and 2016 and still only started two games, despite various struggles from Andre Smith and Cedric Ogbuehi.

Sure, Winston played better than Ogbuehi in 2016, but that wasn’t a particularly tough thing to do. The Bengals seem committed to Ogbuehi’s development, though now, it seems he’ll be moving to left tackle, and Winston obviously isn’t a long-term option at his age. Jake Fisher finished off the season at right tackle, and will be part of the competition at the position next season, if not the starter. The Bengals certainly want to have competition for whoever is playing the right tackle spot, but it might be better to go with a younger player for that role.

Argument for re-signing Winston

Back in November we covered how great of a move it was for the Bengals to re-sign Winston during the 2016 offseason, given the development process of Ogbuehi, whom the Bengals hoped would be the successor to Andre Smith at right tackle. I think we can all agree that the development process is not complete. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the Bengals to want to bring Winston back for another season. Keeping a consistent environment for Ogbuehi’s development is going to be key to making sure he stays on track, whether he’s playing right or left tackle. And, Fisher can surely benefit from veteran guidance, too.

Not to mention, Winston generally performs very well when he fills in at the position. If you’ll recall, in one particular game in which he relieved the struggling Ogbuehi, the Bengals were up against the New England Patriots in Week 6. They eventually lost 35-17, but, there were some solid performances from individual players in that game and of those performances came from Winston. He didn’t allow a single pressure and opened up some holes in the running game; it was the first of many games during which Winston came off the bench for Ogbuehi. The thought is, had he played more snaps that week, his presence could have gotten the offense going and potentially given the Bengals more of a chance to beat the Patriots.

Therefore, why would the Bengals want to lose their safety valve at right tackle? As bad as the offensive line was in 2016, Winston was one of the few players who actually played well. If the Bengals are truly committed to Ogbuehi and Fisher’s development, there isn’t much chance Winston will be a starter with the team. But, he should help stabilize the position while giving the young duo a chance to grow.

It’s also a plus that Winston can backup both of the tackle and guard positions, which is a reason to keep him in itself. If he comes at a low cost, there’s not much reason to not re-sign him to compete for a spot on the 2017 roster.

Priority to re-sign: Medium