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Times are changing in Bengaldom

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Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko have been leaders in the Bengals’ locker room for years, having spent 11 years in Cincinnati. In 2017, neither will be suiting up in stripes. Let that sink in.

Sometimes, you hope something's going to happen, but in the back of your mind, you know it's not really going to happen.

That's how I felt about the Bengals moving forward without Domata Peko in 2017. But as it turns out, it really will be happening and the Bengals are moving on without Peko. It feels strange, because the Bengals are typically far-too-loyal to their long-time veterans. And it seemed like a very typical move for the Bengals to bring Peko back on a short-term deal. Now that he’s signed a two-year contract with the Denver Broncos, I’m realizing how weird it is that Domata Peko is no longer a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was time for this to happen. The Bengals desperately need to get younger on defense and the best way to do that is by removing the oldest member of the defense, a player who is no longer of the caliber he used to be when drafted 11 years ago. That seems to be the general consensus among fans.

So as hard as it is to say goodbye to a player who made so many positive and memorable contributions to the Bengals in his 11 years with the team, the timing seemed right as he hit free agency.

When the Bengals begin practicing this spring, you can bet it's going to feel strange when Peko isn't out there with the team. And to make things even stranger, Andrew Whitworth, another 11 year Bengals veteran, also won't be out there.

While age catches up with your typical NFL player, that has not proven to be the case with Whitworth. He allowed just four sacks in 2016 and has had some of the best years of his career after turning 30. That includes two Pro Bowl seasons in the last two years. At 35-years-old, Whitworth just signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams to help protect second year quarterback Jared Goff. To put things in perspective, Whitworth is four years older than the Rams’ head coach and older every other player on his new team. Adam Jones and Eric Winston, both of whom are 33-years-old, are now the oldest two Bengals players.

There's no doubt Andy Dalton will miss Whitworth significantly. But it won't just be Dalton (and his desire to stay upright), to miss Whitworth; every Bengals player is going to miss his leadership and impact both on- and off-the-field. He's been the ultimate Bengals player for a decade and will go down in history as one of the team’s all-time greats.

The Bengals' 2006 draft class is now fully departed from Cincinnati. That class included Johnathan Joseph, Andrew Whitworth, Frostee Rucker, Domata Peko, A.J. Nicolson, Reggie McNeal, Ethan Kilmer and Bennie Brazell (drafted in that order). There's no member of the Bengals' 2007 draft class still on the team (Leon Hall was the last remaining player from that class). From the 2008 draft class, it's just Pat Sims who remains on the roster.

You could say Whitworth and Peko leaving in the same offseason signifies the end of an era. It’s certainly going to feel different to see the Bengals playing without two long-time impact makers on the field.