The offensive line is the biggest question facing the potential success of the 2017 Cincinnati Bengals, as new faces are preparing to step into big roles this year. The team does have veterans on the roster though, as a potential windfall should players on the line waver under the spotlight.
Veteran Eric Winston provides some sense of stability, even though he is at the end of his career, is on a short-term deal and isn’t set to start. Still, he could be a band-aid if familiar issues surface again this year.
Position: Offensive tackle
Weight: 310 pounds
College: Miami (Fl.)
Hometown: Midland, TX
Experience: Entering 12th season
Winston signed a one-year deal to remain with the Bengals this offseason. The deal is for $1,080,000 and had an $80,000 signing bonus. His cap hit for the team this year is $695,000 (due to a veteran contract loophole) and this short-term contract is the fourth he has signed with the Bengals since 2014.
After being selected in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, Winston has had a solid 11-year career to date. He has played in 141 total NFL games, starting 123 of them. Additionally, he is a well-respected guy off-the-field, as he has held the position of NFLPA President since the spring of 2014.
Even though the Bengals slid into the playoffs during 2014, they were suffering a myriad of big injuries as the end of the regular season neared. One of those was a season-ending triceps injury to Andre Smith in Week 11 of that year, prompting the team to sign Winston. In 35 career games with Cincinnati, Winston has started six (two in each of the past three seasons), while also remaining a valuable backup player.
When he wasn’t starting games for the Bengals, Winston has been a guy who has sometimes been used in “jumbo” run packages. If he makes the final roster this year and things fall into place with the new starters on the line, this will likely be his role once again, as well as serving as a backup for both the tackle and guard positions.
On one hand, Winston seems like a guy who should have his roster spot with the Bengals sewn up once again this year. As Cedric Ogbuehi struggled at right tackle last year, both he and Jake Fisher stepped in to try and right the ship. In 2017, the plan is to kick Ogbuehi out at left tackle with Fisher manning the right side.
After being the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, Ogbuehi and Fisher have struggled with injuries and productivity. While the hope is that both shine in these prominent roles, Winston provides veteran value if there is an issue.
On the other hand, Winston will need to continue to show the coaches he can also ably backup at guard. Smith is back and has the inside track on the right guard gig, but the team has other talented and versatile options for interior linemen in J.J. Dielman, Christian Westerman, Trey Hopkins and T.J. Johnson. Still, veteran savvy and leadership will be needed in a year of some transition, and Winston definitely provides that and more.
Roster Odds: 85 percent.