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Eric Winston: Looks promising to be back with Bengals

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The veteran offensive tackle wants to return to the Queen City and it appears he may get his wish.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-NFLPA Annual Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Andre Smith to a season-ending injury in December 2014, the Bengals signed veteran tackle Eric Winston to step in mid-season and help out at right tackle.

Winston was a free agent at the time after getting cut by the Seattle Seahawks during final roster cuts that year. Signing Winston proved to be a great move as the NFLPA president has been with the Bengals ever since. Winston has served as the team’s backup left tackle, right tackle and guard, playing all over the offensive line as an injury replacement in his two and a half seasons in Cincinnati.

An impending free agent, Winston says he wants to be back in Cincinnati and told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday morning that it “looks promising” that he’ll return to the Bengals.

In 2016, Winston started two games at right tackle while subbing in for an under-performing Cedric Ogbuehi throughout the season. Ogbuehi’s struggles caused Winston to see the field much more often than the Bengals were likely planning when the team re-signed him during the 2016 offseason. The hope last offseason was that Ogbuehi and fellow 2015 draft pick Jake Fisher would develop into the team’s starting tackles of the future. But after seeing the duo play in 2016, neither was ready for a starting role and the same remains true heading into 2017. Ogbuehi’s struggles played a major impact on a poor season for the Bengals’ offensive line (and team in general) and his future is quite unclear at this point after he was benched, moved to be a backup left tackle and then ended the season on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury. Before that injury, the Bengals let Ogbuehi start one game at left tackle, and while he appeared to play slightly better than he had at right tackle, the results were still lackluster.

Because of that, bringing back Winston as a safety net at the position makes a lot of sense. It also is doubly beneficial that he can serve as a backup guard, too. Starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth and starting right guard Kevin Zeitler are also unrestricted free agents. And, backup center T.J. Johnson is a restricted free agent. So, there’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the Bengals’ offensive line.

At 33-years-old, Winston’s best days in the NFL are behind him. But, he serves a purpose on the Bengals’ roster as an experienced NFL player, heading into his 11th season in the league, and is still good enough to fill in as a backup for the Bengals.

After being drafted by the Houston Texans in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Winston spent six seasons in Houston before leaving for the Chiefs and then the Cardinals. Winston has been the NFLPA president since March 2014 and plays a significant role in helping out and speaking on behalf of his fellow NFL players.

Last year, Winston signed a $1.09 million contract with an $80,000 signing bonus to re-sign with the Bengals. In 2015, the team paid him $870,000 and an $80,000 signing bonus. I'd imagine a deal for Winston in 2017 would look quite similar to what he received last year, which the Bengals can certainly afford. There’s really no downside to bringing Winston back on another one-year, inexpensive deal and I’d expect the Bengals will get him locked up relatively soon with many other offensive line free agents to also take care of.