The Bengals are getting an early start on the offseason as they’re not in the Wild Card round of the playoffs for the first time in six years.
As such, the discussion surrounding the team has turned to free agency and the Bengals have a lengthy list of free agents. Two starting offensive lineman this season are on the list: left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler. Whitworth finished the season as Pro Football Focus' #2 ranked offensive tackle while Zeitler finished as the #7 guard in the league. That’s just one bit of information to show just how good these two players are, regardless of the line’s collective struggles this season. One other telling stat: Whitworth has started 55 straight games in Cincinnati, which ranks fourth in the league for consecutive starts by an offensive tackle. Zeitler isn't ranked among the players at guard with the most consecutive starts, but, he did play 100% of the Bengals' offensive stats this season, which is incredibly impressive.
It would be a huge blow to lose either player moving forward. But, Bengals radio voice, former offensive lineman and a guy who should be considered as close to a team insider as it gets, Dave Lapham, doesn’t see a scenario in which the Bengals retain both Whitworth and Zeitler in 2017. Lapham said that and much more on 700 WLW's Bengals Line show on Monday night.
“I don’t see it, I mean cause Kevin Zeitler turned down good money, turned down an offer that was something like $5.5 million per year average. But, you know, when you look at it, (Kelechi) Osemele got like $12 million bucks a year from the Oakland Raiders last year, as a guard. So Zeitler’s like, hmm. Osemele made the Pro Bowl team, Zeitler is second team. So Kevin Zeitler is thinking, I’ve gotta be eight, nine, 10, seven (million) worst case scenario. And not just Kevin, Kevin and his agents. But I don’t see the Bengals paying that kind of dollars to a guard when they have other guys they feel they can plug in and play,” Lapham said.
Osemele’s actual annual salary is $11.7 million with the Raiders and it’s a five year deal. Similarly, Steelers guard David DeCastro, who also made the Pro Bowl, signed a 5 year, $50 million contract last offseason, which includes an average salary of $10 million. According to Lapham, Zeitler was offered a deal by the Bengals last offseason that was “something like $5.5 million per year average”. That’s nowhere near what DeCastro and Osemele received and it’s highly likely Zeitler will be looking for a deal in line with what those two Pro Bowl players signed just one offseason ago. Zeitler is a third alternate in the Pro Bowl this season.
Lapham is more hopeful that the Bengals re-sign Whitworth though.
“I’m hopeful that maybe Andrew Whitworth and maybe directly with the Bengals, without involving Pat Dye (his agent) too much, can come to some sort of conversation where an agreement is reached,” Lapham said. “I think honestly, $9 million is a lot of money, Andrew Whitworth made $9 million this year. And he’s 35-years-old.”
Whitworth actually made $8 million this year, after making $7.2 million in 2015. You can figure he’ll want just as much, and likely more to remain with the Bengals.
“The guy played at a high level, I mean, I can’t tell you, I’d say 11 of the 16 games they’re in two minute drill at the half or the end of the game, and his number did not deviate much,” Lapham said. “He had a solid year. So, if they say ‘hey, what about $9 or $10 million bucks for a one-year deal.’ He might do that. I don’t know if the Bengals are inclined to do that. But I don’t think they’re going to offer Domata Peko close to the bite of the apple he got the last time (he was set to become a free agent). But in order to get Whit signed, they might have to.”
There’s also the idea that the Bengals might not want to guarantee Whitworth the opportunity to play left tackle next season. And that they could want him to play guard, as the team still hopes first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi can develop into the player they hoped he’d be. Though, Lapham isn’t sold on Ogbuehi at this point.
If the Bengals aren’t 100 percent sure Whitworth will be their starting left tackle next season, and that they might want him at guard, Lapham admitted he thinks Whitworth should test the waters and see who does want him as their starting left tackle. Unsurprisingly, he suggested Mike Zimmer’s Vikings as a potential suitor for his services.
But, with Ogbuehi having a rotator cuff injury and Jake Fisher having a labrum injury (which he played through on Sunday against the Ravens), Lapham said, “how do you not sign the guy... and what are you going to do? Draft three more?”
You can listen to the Bengals Line podcast below:
Who would you rather see back in Bengals stripes in 2017: Whitworth or Zeitler?