The Bengals lost their two longest-tenured veterans over the last week. 11-year veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth signed a three year deal worth $36 million on Thursday with the Los Angeles Rams, while the Denver Broncos signed 11-year veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko to a 2-year deal worth $7.5 million.
While many agreed that Peko declined in 2016 and the Bengals needed to move on, he was still a loyal member of the team and a vocal leader for many years. While it may have been time to move on, his departure is bittersweet. Whitworth brought all of the leadership benefits that Peko brought to the table in addition to still being a Pro Bowl caliber player. He was one of the few bright spots for an otherwise awful offensive line in 2016 and has been a staple in the locker room for years. The Bengals and their fans are rightly devastated to see him go.
Throughout Peko’s career with the team, he was a full 16-game starter virtually every season, save for 2006 and 2009. In 2006, his rookie season, he played in all 16 games, but was unable to find much time as a starter due to his fourth round status and the presence of John Thornton and Sam Adams holding down the two starting spots. But, he earned a full-time starting job in his second season and played every game until 2009, when he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for five games. After the ankle injury healed, he never missed another game or start through the rest of his tenure as a Bengal.
Throughout his career, Peko was a productive member of the team, putting up 265 tackles, 18.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and 12 pass deflections in 171 games and 156 starts. He wasn’t always the most exciting player, but there were times he was known to do things like this:
When you think Peko, you don’t always think ‘fullback’. But, there were times when the Bengals put him in as a bruising blocker on offense, occasionally resulting in great plays like this. Over the years, Bengals fans have seen too many punishing hits from the Steelers, so it was nice to see one like this given back their way in 2010.
Peko was also known for his series of hilarious sack dances, ranging from Gangnam Style...
...to the belly dance.
While Peko’s departure from the team is bittersweet, there is no positive spin to the Bengals losing Whitworth. It cost them a leader and one of the team’s best players of the last decade.
The Bengals have had a long, storied history of great offensive tackles. Anthony Munoz, Willie Anderson, Levi Jones, Mike Wilson, and Joe Walter were some of the best, just to name a few. After a stellar career in Cincinnati, Whitworth is a clear member of that group. It is hard to argue that he was better than legends like Munoz and Anderson, but he is right up there in that discussion.
Whitworth went to three Pro Bowls as a member of the Bengals (2012, 2015, and 2016), and was an absolute staple on the offensive line virtually every year. Not only was he one of the best left tackles the team has ever had, but he was also versatile enough to play left guard when needed. In fact, he was drafted as a left guard in the 2006 NFL Draft, but went on to prove himself as an extremely productive left tackle. He only missed eight games in 11 years with the team and never seemed to age. Most recently, he put together a Pro Bowl season in 2016 by contributing all over the field.
Known as the Bengals’ most vocal leader in the locker room, Whitworth happily contributed as a great mentor and giver of pre-game speeches. When the team went through a mini-rebuild in 2011, he helped new quarterback Andy Dalton along as a leader and started to step aside when he felt Dalton was ready to take on more responsibilities. You could argue, without Whitworth’s contributions across the board, the Bengals would not have had the regular season success they had after the Carson Palmer debacle.
Personally, if I were to root for any former Bengal to finish their career strong with a Super Bowl victory, it would be Whitworth. Unfortunately, he appears to be ready to finish his storied career with the Rams, who won’t likely be competing for a Super Bowl title over the next few years. That said, if any former Bengal deserves that honor, it’s Big Whit.