The Bengals are traditionally not a team that likes to pursue high profile free agents. However, there are times when certain free agents come along that make sense for the team. This is especially true when the player in question was cut from his previous team. Former Jets center Nick Mangold, who has started 164 games during his NFL career, was recently released by the New York Jets after 11 Hall of Fame worthy years with the team. He is someone the Bengals should now be considering quite seriously in free agency.
At first glance, you would think the Bengals would be naturally skeptical of signing such a big name player. After all, when is the last time the team signed a future Hall of Famer in free agency? It does happen from time to time, but not particularly often. For example, James Harrison spent a forgettable season with the Bengals in 2013 while Terrell Owens played with the team in 2010. Both players were in their mid-30s at the time of the signing, allowing the Bengals to pick them up at drastically reduced rates.
While Harrison’s season with the Bengals was disappointing, the team actually saw plenty of production from Owens. Cincinnati recorded an abysmal 4-12 record in his season with the team, but he led the Bengals in receiving and was arguably the best weapon on the offense that year. However, in Harrison’s defense, making the switch from the Steelers’ 3-4 defense to the Bengals’ 4-3 defense, especially as an outside linebacker, was tough. Owens had a much less drastic change to make as he only needed to run his routes and have the ball thrown to him by one of the better quarterbacks in the league, Carson Palmer.
If the Bengals were to sign Mangold, the transitional process would likely be similar to Owens’ rather than Harrison’s. Although every team is going to do certain things differently, and blocking schemes are different among all NFL teams. But, offensive lines across the NFL are typically set up with the same fundamentals. Furthermore, the Bengals are used to having a smart, instinctive, relatively undersized center with a mauling strength to his blocking. In a lot of ways, current Bengals’ starting center Russell Bodine is similar to Mangold, the former Jets center is just far better and more experienced.
Mangold is known for being quick and explosive in everything he does. Bodine has still yet to develop those tendencies and, as a result, can get pushed aside by defenders quickly before he has a chance to utilize his strength. The Bengals’ biggest problem with the offensive line in 2016 was the right tackle dilemma, but it would be silly to ignore the very present problems at center.
Therefore, the most obvious reason the Bengals should bring in a proven center like Mangold is to boost the team’s lackluster performance in the trenches. Great linemen typically last longer than the average football player, so at 33-years-old, it isn’t crazy to think that he still has at least a few solid years left in the tank. It is tough to guess what he will command on the open market, but Mangold will almost certainly be receiving significantly less than the $6,075,000 he was scheduled to make in 2017 with the Jets. He spent much of the 2016 season dealing with multiple ankle injuries, so teams will be reluctant to pay him as handsomely as they might have if he was younger and more healthy.
Still, despite the health issues, Mangold’s presence on the Bengals would be invaluable. At 24-years-old, Bodine can still be molded. A successful veteran like Mangold could help him along the right path in his final year under contract in Cincinnati. Even if Mangold’s injury and age issues keep him from being a major contributor, his leadership ability and experience would be nothing but a benefit for an offensive line in serious need of direction.
If the Bengals lose one or both of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, signing Mangold becomes even more of a good idea. Zeitler has masked many of Bodine’s deficiencies and it’s scary to think how he’ll play with a rookie or inexperienced player on the right side of him. The Bengals could badly use an upgrade at center, and Mangold could be a nice short-term option to consider for Cincinnati.