According to FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer, Denver will not pick up their team option on incumbent left tackle Russell Okung’s contract, making him an unrestricted free agent this year.
Another strong tackle option appears headed to free agency as the broncos have informed Russell Okung they will not be picking up his option— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) February 23, 2017
This comes after reports of the Broncos getting set to make a run at Whitworth this offseason. Seeing the Broncos part ways with their current left tackle will only add fuel to that fire. Denver is now in desperate need of a left tackle as they look to reload and make another Super Bowl run next season under new head coach and former Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.
Whitworth may be aging, but in terms of how well he’ll play in 2017, he may be the best left tackle on the market.
That’s what makes this a dangerous situation for the Bengals since Whitworth has made it clear he’ll consider leaving to join a team in win-now mode, something the Bengals hope to be in, but aren’t necessarily in.
Looking at the cap situations for both Cincinnati and Denver, it’s clear both teams will have more than enough money to offer Whitworth a nice deal. The Broncos were projected to have around $31 million in cap space, but with Okung out of the picture, that number jumps to the $42 million range.
The Bengals are projected to have around $43 million, and that number could jump if Rey Maualuga and/or Adam Jones are cut at some point this offseason. They’re already likely to lose starting right guard Kevin Zeitler, so losing Whitworth in the same offseason would be brutal. If the Bengals don’t lock up Whitworth for at least another year, it could be highly detrimental to the team’s success in 2017.
But really, could anyone blame Whitworth if he wants to sign a similar or better deal than Cincinnati is offering with another team that’s actually winning playoff games and contending for a Super Bowl?
Denver has been to more Super Bowls since 2013 than the Bengals have won playoff games since 1989. And while the Broncos didn’t make the playoffs last year, they still won nine games in a division that had two 12-game winners in Kansas City and Oakland.
Whitworth himself has yet to taste playoff victory during his 11-year career with the Bengals. He deserves the right to sign with another team who actually gives him a real shot at a Super Bowl opposed to sticking with a team that will be lucky to win a single playoff game before he retires.
And if Whitworth does leave, Okung becomes one of the better tackles to go after if the Bengals look to free agent for help at the position. Considering the development of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, the Bengals would seriously need to consider signing a quality free agent left tackle if Whitworth walks. Pro Football Focus ranked Okung as their No. 38 offensive tackle in 2017, though they had Whitworth at No. 2, so you can see why the Broncos could value moving on from Okung in favor of Whitworth... If, the club can make it happen.
Would you blame Whitworth if he opted to leave the Bengals for a better chance to win a Super Bowl in the final years of his NFL career?