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Bengals Mailbag: Cincinnati’s HOF problem and reexamining Shawn Williams’ contract

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We examine concerns with the Bengals’ defense, as well as the possibility of two great offensive tackles making the Hall of Fame. We also add some additional commentary on continuing questions from CJ readers and OBI listeners.

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For many reasons, both known and unknown, many quality Cincinnati Bengals players get snubbed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, players like Willie Anderson and Corey Dillon continue to be overlooked for the honor because they each played for significant years on a team that was known as one of the worst of any era in any professional sport (or, like Ken Anderson thinks, because they never won the Super Bowl).

On this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, Scott Schulze and I were asked a number of interesting Bengals questions from our listeners. They ranged from the historical context of some former Cincinnati players who could be in consideration for the Hall of Fame, to the current state of the team’s defense.

When it comes to Bengals players enshrined in Canton, the team has, for a lack of better words, gotten the shaft. Paul Brown and Anthony Munoz are the sole Bengals representatives in the Hall of Fame, with the former largely donning Cleveland’s colors, though he did found the Bengals. Guys like Charlie Joiner who played for the Bengals are in there, as is Dick LeBeau, but their tenure in The Queen City is a footnote in their legacy.

Players like Lamar Parrish, Ken Riley and Ken Anderson are former Bengals who have been talked about as ones who should be in Canton on behalf of Cincinnati, but a number of factors has kept them out. Had Anderson pulled off a win in Super Bowl XVI, he would be a shoo-in. Unfortunately, the team having a lack of championships, residing in a small market and the stigma of the 1990s all seem to hang over these types of players like a bad hangover.

On the show, we were asked about the tackles, Anderson and Andrew Whitworth, being added to the Hall of Fame. When looking at Hall of Fame players, the voters seem to have a bit of an inconsistent process when voting players into the shrine. There are players who are obvious locks, but their reasoning with some of those fringe guys seems to be quite fickle.

Is it the popularity contest of Pro Bowls as the main criteria? Are the All-Pro nominations from The Associated Press the standard? Longevity and championships also seem to weigh in on quite a few of those selected.

While discussing their respectively great careers, the failures of the teams Anderson and Whitworth played on lingered in our minds. Anderson played well for seven seasons on poor teams until Marvin Lewis turned things around in 2003, and he was then finally selected to four straight Pro Bowls.

Whitworth also seemed to get better with age, but his notoriety increased in the Bengals’ run of five straight playoff appearances from 2011-2015. Unfortunately, he played in a division with other great tackles, Joe Thomas and Jonathan Ogden, who had far higher draft statuses than Whitworth, which undoubtedly hurt his popularity.

In the age of metrics-driven data, this generation of voters and fans realize some of the league’s great players may fall behind the scenes. Whitworth has been a Pro Football Focus favorite in recent years and maybe his landing in the big market of Los Angeles could help his HOF status. For now, it seems like an unfortunate truth that we won’t see either Anderson or Whitworth in Canton because of the failures of their teams.

We were also asked about if Shawn Williams is a viable player at safety and if he’s worth the extension he signed last offseason. While he got off to a slow start in 2016 and had enormous shoes to fill with Reggie Nelson’s departure, he ended the year on a high note.

As we noted on the program, Williams is a guy who has steadily improved from the player who wasn’t asked to even cover the pass at the University of Georgia. While he may never become one of the great safeties in the league, he is a sure tackler and has a respectable five interceptions during the past two seasons.

Additionally, PFF recently named him the Bengals’ “secret superstar”. The one knock we had with Williams’ 2016 performance is that his play improved late in the year, largely against teams who were out of the playoff race. But, that could also be a sign that he just needed time to adjust to life as a starter and playing with George Iloka, who he mostly served as a backup for earlier in his career.

Still, for now, it looks like the Bengals’ decision to extend Williams as the long-term flanker to Iloka was a solid one. Time will tell if he continues to live up to that four-year, $20.2 million deal from last offseason, but he is a solid piece to a stout defensive whole.

*****

Here’s another hypothetical question from Cincy Jungle friend, Cody Tewmey, that makes it hard to provide a definitive answer. Obviously, former Jets center Nick Mangold is looking for two things as his career winds down: an opportunity to start and doing so for a team that has legitimate championship aspirations. Sure, he’ll want a decent payday, but after 11 seasons and seven Pro Bowl berths, it’s safe to assume what’s high up on his priority list.

Most Bengals fans still believe the latter is attainable in 2017, even after a six-win season in 2016, but ironically, it’s the offensive line that is the biggest question in getting there. Had the Bengals kept Whitworth and/or Kevin Zeitler this year, a lot of the questions that currently surround the team would not be asked.

As Cody notes, perhaps being flanked by two of the better offensive linemen the team has had in this generation would further appeal to Mangold, should the Bengals reach out to him. When a Hall of Fame player like Mangold sees a team go all in and have a bunch of talent like the Bengals have (and could have had with those two free agents), it does bode well for a team to add an additional talented piece because of the quest for a ring.

Still, these are the Bengals we’re talking about. While Mangold fits a mold of free agent players the Bengals like to sign—i.e. great players who are at the end of their career and could be had for cheap—they are also a club reluctant to pull the plug on a project in which they have heavily invested. While a fourth round pick in 2014 doesn’t scream “huge investment”, the team has made a big commitment to find out if Russell Bodine can be an above-average starter in the league.

And, even while the Bengals could possibly get a decent deal on a player like Mangold, Bodine is making a shade under $2 million in the final year of his rookie contract. While that sounds like a lot for a player who has had ups and downs his first three years, it’s still affordable for an NFL starting lineman.

The other thing that the Bengals would point to (and fans would only marginally agree with) is Bodine’s year-to-year improvement. If you’re one who subscribes to Pro Football Focus’ metrics as a major source of player performance, Sam Monson noted Bodine’s improvement in 2016 after the year was over.

Also worth noting is the team’s youth movement this offseason. While Bodine is now officially a veteran, the team wasn’t looking for those rental deals on guys this offseason like they did in years past with James Harrison, Karlos Dansby and Sam Adams. If Mangold or Bodine showed an ability to play guard, maybe Paul Alexander could get creative, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

While Mangold could be had and may be an improvement at center, that call is probably only being made by the Bengals if Bodine goes down with an injury. Seeing as how he hasn’t missed a game in his entire NFL career, look for No. 61 to be the guy at center in 2017, for better or worse.

The audio clip of this segment can be downloaded via SoundCloud here.

If you’re unable to join us live, all Orange and Black Insider content is here on Cincy Jungle, as well as on our SoundCloud and YouTube channels, and on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening!