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Bengals’ biggest mistake of the offseason was letting Andrew Whitworth walk in free agency

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What is the one thing the Bengals should have done differently this offseason?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With the Cincinnati Bengals at 2-3 and having lost three consecutive games, there are obviously things that could have been done differently by the front office this offseason to get the team off to a better start. But what’s the one thing that would have made the biggest difference?

There’s not just one answer, unfortunately. The Bengals had an 0-3 start, and are just now getting on track after making multiple changes to the team and their philosophy.

  • The Bengals should have played their young talent sooner
  • They should have had a better offensive plan coming into the season
  • They shouldn’t have let Ken Zampese return as offensive coordinator
  • They should have traded dead weight and gotten valuable pieces in return

Those things may all be true, but above all else, the Bengals’ offensive line is a near disaster (though, improving) and the line went unaddressed this offseaosn while letting the two best players from the unit walk in free agency.

The Bengals let Kevin Zeitler walk away in free agency without offering him a contract, but considering the deal the Browns gave him and his performance this season, it is hard to say he would have been as important as the other offensive lineman the team let walk away.

The one move the Bengals should have made (and one I think everyone can agree on) is they should have re-signed long-time left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

It was a hot button issue when the team let Whitworth leave for the Los Angeles Rams on a three year, $33,750,000 deal. Last season the offensive line didn’t play well, but it wasn’t Witworth’s fault. He had one of his best season’s at the age of 34. He turned 35 last December, so the Bengals had an issue giving him a long term deal. This reportedly rubbed Whitworth the wrong way, and when the Rams offered him a massive three-year contract he took it. Now with that said, the Rams could opt out of the deal in 2018 or 2019 with relative ease. Though, it's pretty obvious that won't be happening in 2018 based on how well Whitworth is continuing to play this year.

The deal allows the Rams to be able to cut Whitworth next offseason with only a $5.8 million cap hit or before the 2019 season for a $1.66 million cap hit. The Rams clearly left themselves a couple outs for when Whitworth is 36 and 37, and it is frustrating the Bengals wouldn’t offer him a similar deal. Considering everything Whitworth has meant to this Bengals team it is hard to see him treated like that.

Whitworth’s absence has had an obvious effect on this season. The opening game against Baltimore had Andy Dalton running from Terrell Suggs all game long. It was the first real evidence that Cedric Ogbuehi didn’t suddenly improve after we all watched him struggle in 2016 at right tackle. The Bengals had to fire Ken Zampese because the offense wasn’t performing anywhere near an acceptable level through two weeks. They didn’t score their first touchdown until Week 3. The Bengals have also started to rotate Andre Smith in at offensive tackle after Jake Fisher and Ogbuehi both struggled to begin this season.

The Bengals have been better in the past three games along the offensive line, but could the Bengals have won maybe one more game if Whitworth had stuck around? Possibly. If the Bengals had one more win in the first three games, we would be looking at a very different season. When Whitworth was a free agent still looking for a team, he was talking about what he would do to help Ogbuehi and Fisher.

It is hard to say how this season would’ve played out differently with Whitworth at left tackle instead of Ogbuehi, but looking at the teams’ records, the Bengals are 2-3 while the Rams are 4-2 sitting atop of their division. Jared Goff is also having a way better year compared to his rookie year, and the protection Whitworth has provided is a big part of that. Todd Gurley is also having a far season than in his second year. The entire Rams offense just appears to be better.

The Bengals may never admit it, but Whitworth should’ve been a Bengal for life. They’d be a better team now if they would’ve committed to him in the offseason.

What offseason move (or non-move) do you think you could have changed the Bengals’ season for the better?