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Andre Smith early front-runner to be Bengals’ starting right guard

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After losing Kevin Zeitler to the Browns, the Bengals re-signed a familiar face in Andre Smith. What initially looked like a deal for depth might actually be a move for a starting position.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

After losing starting right guard Kevin Zeitler to the Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals decided to dial up a familiar name to add depth to the depleted offensive line. On Tuesday, the team signed Andre Smith to bolster the group. While the move initially seemed to be one where Smith would vie for a starting role on the outside, he may actually be Zeitler’s immediate replacement.

Per Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, early rumblings are pointing toward Smith being penciled in as the team’s starting right guard.

Indications are the Bengals are going to play Smith at right guard next to new starting right tackle Jake Fisher. Smith, 30, who started 73 games at right tackle for the Bengals over seven seasons before taking a one-year deal in Minnesota last year, doesn’t have an NFL start at guard. But he’s practiced there for the Bengals and it has long been thought that his powerful frame, sheer strength, and athletic feet would make him an elite guard.

This isn’t the first time that a Smith-to-guard-transition has been mentioned. When he was coming out of Alabama in 2009, some NFL Draft analysts pegged Smith as an All-Pro-type guard. Even so, the Bengals took him at No. 6 overall and plugged him in at right tackle for seven relatively solid seasons.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Smith’s deal is an estimated one-year contract at around $4.5 million. Smith signed a one-year, $3.5 million last year with the Vikings and was apparently pursued by the Buffalo Bills this offseason after playing only four games with Minnesota in 2016. If that $4.5 million figure is true, you’d think he will be a starter for the Bengals. Though, it’s highly questionable that he’d receive a raise after a very poor start to the year with the Vikings, before he went down with an injury and landed on Injured Reserve.

While Smith brings familiarity and veteran steadiness after two starting stalwarts were lost on the line in free agency this year, the proposition of him being plugged in as the starting guard brings questions. As Hobson noted, Smith has yet to play a down of guard at the NFL level, which could make some uneasy after a true guard like Zeitler walked out of the door. It might also point to the coaching staff’s uneasiness with Christian Westerman as an NFL starter as he enters his second season. Westerman didn’t play one snap during his rookie year and was active on the gameday roster for only one game.

On the positive side, if Jake Fisher struggles as a starter at right tackle, they could kick Smith outside to remedy that situation. Fisher could then kick inside to guard, or we might see Westerman in that scenario. There’s also T.J. Johnson and Trey Hopkins on the roster, as well as Alex Redmond. You have to figure the Bengals will draft at least one guard this year, too. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander loves versatility and flexibility on the line and the Smith signing brings those traits back to Cincinnati.

The Bengals have made it publicly known that they don’t like to pay guards big money and it’s evident with Zeitler’s five-year, $60 million deal, as compared to Smith’s $4.5 million number. So, if the Bengals wanted to shave costs at the position in 2017, they definitely achieved the feat with this swap-out.

There is a lot to still to play out next month in the draft and in training camp, but, for now, it looks like big No. 71 has the inside track as a starter in a new role with the Bengals. David Dean currently wears No. 71 on the Bengals' roster, so Smith may have a new number in Cincinnati, or may get Dean to switch up his number as he was a practice squad player in 2016, his first year with the team.

Either way, it appears Smith is going to play a big role on the Bengals’ roster in 2017. In fact, he now has the most experience with the Bengals of any offensive player on the team.