On Thursday, Cedric Peerman and the Bengals agreed to a one year contract extension. The move was a relatively low-key one, but keeping Peerman around is actually one of the best things the Bengals could have done at this point of the offseason.
As a backup running back, Peerman’s impact on the running game is vastly underestimated. He has never recorded more than 250 yards in a season and only has one career touchdown. But, he has been an invaluable leader and mentor for the other running backs on the roster during his tenure in Cincinnati.
"We needed to get Ced back,” special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons told Paul Dehner Jr. of Cincinnati.com. “He’s been a critical part to what we do. Anytime you can get him and Vinny (Rey) have been captains. Keep those guys together and keep the leadership in front of these young guys. I’m all for playing these young guys, but you have to have somebody other than just me showing them the way."
However, Peerman’s primary impact in Cincinnati has been his ability to consistently perform well on special teams, being named captain of the unit in 2014. In 2015, he put together a Pro Bowl worthy season, purely based on those contributions.
“I think he really turned the corner a few years ago when he went to the Pro Bowl and his commitment has been outstanding,” Simmons told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “It’s great to have him as a leader and mentor for the young guys. It’s tough to lose those guys. Now the next torchbearers are up. It’s time for me to coach them up and cycle them through.”
That’s why it was so important for the Bengals to re-sign him. The team already lost Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko this offseason, two valuable team mentors. It would have been extremely difficult for the team to recover from losing another of the top leaders from the third unit.
“If you don’t have a great a lead singer, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a great band,” Simmons said. “It’s huge for us. He’s a foundation of what we do.”
Unfortunately for the Bengals, they were unable to retain 2016 breakout star Rex Burkhead, who did not have a chance to emerge as a great running back until the final games of his contract with the team. With the Bengals invested in Giovani Bernard and wanting to draft a running back this year, the team couldn’t justify bringing him back. Not to mention, Burkhead no longer wanted to be buried on the Bengals’ depth chart.
"Sometimes a club has plans and those sometimes evolve as you go throughout free agency," Simmons said. "Sometimes you have to reshuffle the deck during free agency and re-evaluate those. Especially after Rex went to New England, even James Wright being waived, we lose a couple fine players and so I did feel it was important to get him back. It’s always important to get guys like him not just for production, but the leadership."
Burkhead and Wright were actually the Bengals’ top two special teams tacklers in 2016. Peerman missed all but five games of the season while recovering from a preseason forearm injury. Upon his return in Week 13 (one week after Bernard’s season-ending ACL tear) the specials teams unit was instantly boosted.
Changes to the structure of the Bengals’ running back corps are unavoidable in 2017, so keeping some stability with Peerman should help the transition.
“Losing guys is always tough but that’s the nature of the game… I’m at the point in my career where guys are looking up to me, I think,” Peerman said. “I’m just looking to lead by example and give whatever knowledge I have to guys and hopefully help make the guys around me better players and better men.”
Peerman isn’t taking anything for granted. It is a very rare occurrence for a player on the fringes of a roster to last so long with one team, but he just keeps his head down and continues to make himself indispensable through his relentless work ethic and a grounded perspective.
“I’m just thankful to be able to last that long in the league,” he said, “because a lot of guys didn’t last like that.”