It’s no secret that the Cincinnati Bengals have preferred to look on the inside when it comes to signing free agents. Because of that strategy, the team has three critical decisions to make this year with cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler.
Overall performance, age and the importance of having a good group up front combine for a solid argument that Zeitler is the most important (and the most expensive player) of the aforementioned trio to lock up. However, the team is still working with with two first round picks used on linemen in the 2015 NFL Draft and gave Zeitler’s counterpart, Clint Boling, a big extension in 2015.
With the team seeming to de-value guards compared to other positions in their history, might Zeitler’s price tag be too high? If so, there might be an interesting option who will be more affordable set to hit the open market.
Chance Warmack was a former top-10 pick of the Titans back in the 2013 NFL Draft. He has since spent four relatively-disappointing seasons with Tennessee and the team didn’t use the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Warmack
landed on Injured Reserve before Week 3 of the 2016 season due to requiring hand surgery. Josh Kline filled in admirably for 14 games at right guard, as the Titans’ offensive line was deemed the best in the NFL in 2016 by Pro Football Focus’ standards. Warmack could be hitting the open market because of the camaraderie the Titans built last year, and though he’s been a bit of a disappointment, that doesn’t mean he can’t have a career renaissance.
Years Pro: Entering 5th season
Age: 25 (26 when season starts)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 317 pounds
Last Contract: Four years (rookie deal’s fifth-year option declined), $12.2 million (guaranteed); $7.23 million signing bonus
Why it makes sense for the Bengals:
Cheaper and younger than Zeitler: If the Bengals prefer to spend less money than Zeitler will yield, while still getting a young player, Warmack is still a high-upside player who is half a year younger than the Bengals veteran. With many other currently rostered players for the Bengals to re-sign, an approximate savings of $4-$5 million per year between the estimated market value for Zeitler and Warmack might make more sense to the front office.
A potential good fit in Bengals’ scheme: Cincinnati loves maulers with mean streaks and those were some of the tags on Warmack when he came out of Alabama. He paved the way for great seasons from both Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram with the Crimson Tide and with one of the Bengals’ offseason priorities being the betterment of the run game, Warmack could be an effective player under Paul Alexander’s tutelage.
Previous team success with reclamation projects: Whether the Bengals have taken chances on former high picks who have fizzled out, or those with character concerns, the team has had some success in reviving careers—even for the short-term. Because of the scheme fit, Warmack could become an above-average player with the Bengals as they let youngsters like Christian Westerman continue to develop.
Why it doesn’t make sense for the Bengals:
A lesser player: A Warmack-for-Zeitler swap reeks of classic Bengals. They’ve eschewed paying some of their best free agents proper money in the Marvin Lewis era, including guys like Eric Steinbach and Johnathan Joseph. However, if you polled most fans, I think they’d prefer to have Steinbach over Nate Livings and Stacy Andrews, as well as Joseph over Nate Clements.
Will Warmack ever live up to his potential?: The Titans had one of the best offensive lines in 2016 and that was without Warmack in the lineup for 14 games. Though the upside is definitely there, the Bengals could be taking a major gamble to save some money with Warmack if we’ve already seen the best from the former Titan.
Replacement options already on the roster?: Trey Hopkins has long been a preseason presence, but he’s been unable to stay on the 53-man roster. The wild card is Westerman, who many felt was a second round talent when the Bengals grabbed him in the fifth round last year. He didn’t play in 2016, but he could be Zeitler’s successor at some point in the future and if the team feels he’s ready to start in 2017, money could be spent elsewhere this offseason.