Thursday, the Cleveland Browns reached a deal with former Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler to make him the highest paid guard in NFL history ($60 million over five years). The news was one of the last thing Bengals fans were hoping to hear this offseason, but it’s hard to argue with his reasoning when explaining why he chose Cleveland.
“Every player when they’re drafted thinks they’ll be with their first team their whole career, and they want to be that,” Zeitler told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com. “But the business side sometimes doesn’t align for that.”
From a business perspective, there is simply no justifiable argument that Zeitler should have made a different decision. In fact, the Bengals, reportedly, didn’t even offer him a contract, preferring to give him the option of negotiating in Cincinnati only if he didn’t see the kind of offers he was hoping for. Luckily, he found what he was seeking and there are no hard feelings from Zeitler, who understands how the Bengals work.
“I respect the whole Brown family with how they run their organization,” Zeitler said. “They have their blueprint and they stick to that and it’s worked out well for them. There’s no hard feelings or anything like that. It’s what they do and I’m sure they’ll be alright.”
The Cleveland Browns are not a team expected to contend for a championship any time soon, but how can anyone turn down such a lucrative contract offer? In addition to the money side of the equation, Zeitler will enjoy the benefit of playing for his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Hue Jackson, now head coach of the Browns, whom he has tremendous respect for.
“Obviously it was nice that I got to work with Hue in the past in Cincinnati, knowing how he coaches and what his styles are,” Zeitler said. “He knows how to get things done. I’m excited to be a part of that and do whatever it takes to help the organization forward.”
Bengals fans may not be happy that he left for a division rival, but fans should be more angry with the Bengals for not making the effort to re-sign. Zeitler could help to make the Browns a team the Bengals need to fear, and that's what fans should really be upset about, the Bengals’ lacking interest in improvement.
“I’m very excited. You put a lot of work in the first couple years in the league and every player wants to get to free agency,” Zeitler said. “I just have been lucky. I hit it at a good time, especially with the swing in the guard value. I’m honored that the Browns wanted me.”
That said, despite being thrilled the Browns valued him so highly, and enjoying his new multi-millionaire status, he had nothing but nice things to say about the Bengals and their fans.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first five years in the league than to be in Cincinnati,” Zeitler said. “I mean, I’m so thankful for the coaches, the owners taking a chance on me, picking me early in the draft and allowing me to just go in there and play and learn as I go. It was really great. I had great teammate and I think Cincinnati, they’re going to bounce back and be great again this year.”
Unfortunately, that's going to be tougher without Zeitler. Just like the wide receiver position took time to adjust to the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in 2016, the offensive line losses are even more significant due to Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth being the team's best two linemen, and it'll take time and effort to fill their shoes. The Bengals did a good job of replacing Jones and Sanu’s production in 2016, even if the chemistry took time to develop. Hopefully, the Bengals can continue without missing a beat in filling Zeitler’s vacant spot in 2017 (and Whitworth’s, too).
If the Bengals can bounce back like Zeitler suggested, it would be a big relief.