The Cincinnati Bengals have signed Andre Smith, per Jeff Darlington of ESPN.
After spending 2016 with Vikings, tackle Andre Smith will rejoin Bengals, where he spent first 7 seasons, per @JeffDarlington.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2017
Smith re-joins the Bengals after departing last offseason to sign a free agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings. However, his season ended after just four games due to an arm injury.
The deal he signed actually netted Cincinnati a compensatory seventh-round draft pick this year. So in other words, Smith spent most of 2016 on I.R. with Minnesota to get Cincinnati an extra draft pick this year. Not a bad trade-off. Smith also visited the Buffalo Bills this week, though he was not offered a contract there.
While Smith was a key player for the Bengals and their full-time starting right tackle from 2011-15, he was not someone the Bengals made any concerted effort to re-sign during the 2016 offseason. The talented but enigmatic right tackle slowly fell out of favor in Cincinnati during the 2014 season, and that helped lead to his departure to Minnesota last offseason.
After the Bengals spent their first and second-round picks on offensive tackles in the 2015 NFL Draft, Smith's fate was sealed. Originally drafted with the sixth-overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft by way of Alabama, Smith would suffer foot injuries that cost him 19 games during his first two seasons in the Queen City as the 'bust' label appeared imminent.
But while Smith's career in Cincinnati may not be one worthy of a top-10 pick in any draft, he was successful enough that he should not be considered a bust, especially in what was one of the worst draft classes in recent memory.
He was also consistently ranked among Pro Football Focus’ best right tackles from 2011-13, even finishing as the No. 1 right tackle by PFF in 2012. He also missed only 11 games from 2011-15, but did miss seven in 2014 with a torn muscle in his arm.
In 2015, Smith missed two game due to a concussion, but started in 15 games, including the postseason. However, his performance was like a roller coaster that saw more bad than good. PFF even gave him a 39.6 grade, which by their grading system made him a 'replaceable' player.
Regardless, bringing back Smith made too much sense, if he’s going to serve as a backup. Even so, this is likely going to be a contract that allows him to be cut at any time, should the Bengals find a younger, better backup tackle for the 2017 roster. Eric Winston was also brought back on a one-year deal to serve as the primary backup for the tackle positions, as well as right guard.
But with Andrew Whitworth now with the L.A. Rams, there’s going to be an offensive tackle spot up for grabs this year. Depending on where the Bengals want Jake Fisher, Smith could end up competing with Fisher for the starting right tackle spot, or end up starting alongside Fisher if he moves to the left side.
Cedric Ogbuehi is likely sticking to left tackle, but the Bengals cannot afford to just let him have that spot, so moving Fisher to the left side and letting Smith man the right side could be something the Bengals also consider.
Either way, Smith is back and poised for a big role next season. This marks the Bengals’ first outside free agent signing for 2017.