Wallace Gilberry left Cincinnati in 2016 after four successful years to join the Detroit Lions. But, he was only able to play four games before being placed on Injured Reserve and eventually getting released. His unemployment didn’t last long though, as he reunited with the Bengals during the team’s bye week a month later. The veteran defensive end’s arrival coincided with a vast improvement from the struggling defense.
This offseason, the Bengals re-signed Gilberry to a one year deal and he’s ready to make an impact in his 10th NFL season.
Position: Defensive end
Hometown: Bromley, Alabama
Experience: Eleventh-year player
Draft Status: Undrafted in 2008
The Bromley, Alabama native signed a one-year deal worth $1,400,000 back in March, with $300,000 guaranteed via a signing bonus. If the Bengals release him, that would be the only dead money attached to Gilberry, according to spotrac.
The former undrafted free agent out of Alabama spent the bulk of the first four years of his career in Kansas City, recording 14 sacks in only three starts in his stint there. After hitting free agency, he signed with the Buccaneers but only lasted a few months with Tampa Bay. The Bengals signed him in September 2012 and he immediately made an impact in Cincinnati, notching 6.5 sacks and recovering three fumbles, one of them for a touchdown against the Eagles. Gilberry was the perfect wild card for then-defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, providing versatility to the defensive line as an end and nickel tackle in obvious passing downs.
The departure of starting right end Michael Johnson to Tampa in 2014 forced Gilberry into a starting role that wasn’t his best suit and amid a struggling pass rush he only produced 1.5 sacks in 16 starts, the lowest amount since his rookie season, when he appeared in just five games. He never recovered and after another quiet year he looked like he had lost one or two steps. Gilberry signed with the Lions last April but only lasted until October, after an abdomen injury caused him to be placed on Injured Reserve.
Not many were happy to see Gilberry back in town when Cincinnati signed him after a month as free agent. But, the defense was struggling mightily and most fans wanted to see youth and speed at the second level—not things Gilberry provides. The Bengals thought otherwise differently, and brought him in after the team’s London game. Gilberry was somebody they already knew and who was familiar with the system. They believed he could play right away, and he did, collecting 2.5 sacks in just five games. He dealt with an injury in his half season with the Bengals, bringing questions about his duability, but when he was on the field, he was effective. The defense was much better in the second half of the season, with an in-shape Vontaze Burfict leading the way, but the addition of Gilberry surely was valuable in stabilizing a front-four that looked as pedestrian as in 2014.
The Bengals clearly liked what they saw from Gilberry at the end of the 2016 season, as they gave him a $1,400,000 deal despite all the additions to the line that were in the making in the offseason. Cincinnati drafted two pass rushers in Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson and also traded for former Jaguars defensive end Chris Smith. Still, Gilberry seems to know what his own value is.
“They don’t have to too much worry about me,” he said last January before hitting free agency. “I may not start in the right spot but I’ll finish there, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s all about, how you finish. I think I do a pretty good job of that, of playing hard every day. That’s my m.o., man. I try to finish every play. That drive and that passion, it bleeds out. Other guys catch wind of it, catch fire, and you see it. We have fun.”
Cincinnati usually keeps four ends, and even if they consider Lawson as a linebacker, Gilberry will still have to battle with Willis, Smith and Will Clarke, who’s facing a really tough battle for a roster spot. Johnson, despite being ineffective for much of his second stint in town, is still a lock to make the roster, and there’s no way Willis doesn’t make it as the team’s third round pick in 2017. With a lot of youngsters coming in this season the Bengals might keep Gilberry as a mentor and insurance given his versatility.
I think he has better odds than somebody like Clarke or Smith to make the roster, although the later could surprise a few in a make it or break year.
Roster odds: 65%