Saying goodbye is hard to do. In Domata Peko’s case, it was a particularly difficult thing to cope with after spending the last 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that drafted him back in 2006. Peko’s play declined in 2016 and the Bengals have been looking to bring in the next generation of players at his position for a long time. Still, leaving Cincinnati wasn’t something Peko was emotionally prepared to face.
“It’s really hard, man. It’s really tough for me,” Peko told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com. “All I knew was Cincinnati you know? For professional football. Just being there for so many years, my church, it’s tough for us to move, to uproot out here. But it’s just part of the business. Even Peyton Manning had to leave Indy. It’s just part of the business.”
Part of the emotional side of leaving the only NFL home Peko has ever known is the impact it will have on his family. After building his family in Cincinnati, moving halfway across the country while his children are still growing and used to their surroundings, can create an impact on their young lives.
“It was a tough one for us. My oldest son is 12. He was one year old when he got here. He basically grew up here. All his friends are here,” Peko said. “My eight-year-old was born here, was born in Northern Kentucky. My youngest son was born in Northern Kentucky. We have roots here. And all the stuff we do in the community, the fans love us here in Cincinnati.”
However, from a business standpoint, letting Peko leave for Denver was the right move. At 32-years-old, the fact that his play has declined means that his future in Cincinnati was likely going to center around a backup/mentor role. Young players like Andrew Billings and DeShawn Williams are expected to be the future in Cincinnati. With Peko putting up only 37 tackles, three pass deflections, and a fumble recovery in 2016, keeping him and his lack of recent production on the roster would only get in the way of the young players’ development.
The Broncos gave Peko a two-year contract worth $7,500,000. It isn’t exactly a mega deal, but it is more than the Bengals were willing to pay him, and should help ease the pain of leaving the city and community that he loved and was loved by.
“That’s the hardest part for me, is all the relationships I’ve built with the staff, with teammates, that was really hard for us,” Peko said. “It was really emotional. It was super sad for us to leave. But, we know God’s got our back and that he has a future for us here.”
Unfortunately, in Cincinnati, the love for Peko has dwindled over the years, at least for his on-the-field product. Fans have been frustrated by his lackluster pass rush, while his tackling numbers have been slipping since 2012. However, former Bengals defensive backs coach and now Broncos head coach Vance Joseph, who was last with the Bengals in 2015, a year when Peko put up the highest sack totals of his career (5.0), looked past his struggles and made Peko an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
“You gotta go where you feel loved and coach Vance reached out to me and he said he really wants me and you gotta go where you’re wanted,” Peko said. “The Broncos man, it’s a hell of an organization to go to. They’re always a contender, every year, year in and year out and it’s a great opportunity for me to come somewhere new and have a little fresh start here and try to get a ring.”
Here’s hoping Peko has a strong finish to his career in Denver. His production with the Bengals might have been slipping during the last few years, but he was still one of the most loyal and hard working players the Bengals have had. As far as I’m concerned, he will always be welcome in this city with open arms.
“I’m going to miss everybody, but I’ve just got to move on,” Peko said. “It’s time to take the Peko nation to Denver.”