For most of this offseason, it’s appeared that the Bengals were moving on from veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko.
The long-time Bengals mainstay has regressed enough over the years that Cincinnati is better off finding someone else to man the second tackle spot next to Geno Atkins. The team seemingly has that in Andrew Billings, who was injured for all of his rookie year in 2016. But now, it appears the Bengals may bring Peko back after all, with a condition.
According to Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson, the team is working to bring Peko back to be a mentor for Billings, who is vying to be his replacement. It’s unclear if Peko would be willing to re-sign with the team to serve in that kind of role, but it’s not as though he’ll have many options.
Peko has consistently been among Pro Football Focus’ worst 4-3 defensive tackles. PFF ranked him 106th out of 127 eligible interior defenders last season. That’s not necessarily on Peko though, as he is a decent role player who could be better in more of a rotational role.
But instead, the Bengals have played him far too many snaps over the years, enough that he’s even worse by the time the playoffs roll around, which is in part why the Bengals get gashed in every playoff game they make.
That didn’t happen this past season, but Peko’s struggles did help lead to Cincinnati finishing 23rd in yards per rush allowed (4.4).
Don’t expect that to change much, if at all in 2017 if Peko is back in his starting spot and still getting 30-40 snaps per game.
As for Billings, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Baylor in the 2016 NFL Draft, he was viewed as one of the best nose tackle prospects that year. During his final season of college, Billings racked up 5.5 sacks, 39 total tackles and 14 tackles for loss. The Bengals had high hopes for him and thought he could be capable of winning that starting spot next to Atkins, but Billings never made it to the preseason after he suffered a torn meniscus in training camp and ended up on season-ending I.R.
Perhaps the Bengals will bring Peko back more for insurance if Billings can’t stay healthy. Either way, this isn’t the guy you wanted hear Cincinnati was working to re-sign when guys like Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Whitworth, Rex Burkhead, Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby are hitting free agency.