Giovani Bernard has become one of the longer tenured offensive players for the Cincinnati Bengals. Last offseason, the Bengals thought highly enough of him to extend his contract before the season, so he wouldn’t hit free agency this offseason. Unfortunately, his 2016 season ended prematurely with an ACL tear at the end of the Week 11 game against the Buffalo Bills. In the same game, Cincinnati also lost A.J. Green to a season-ending hamstring injury. Bernard will look to return this season and make an impact once again. The problem is, the backfield may be a little too crowded for him to make as much as an impact as he’s used to.
Weight: 205 pounds
College: North Carolina
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL
Experience: Fifth-year player
Draft status: Second round pick in 2013
Bernard is in the first year of his three-year extension, which he signed before last season. The deal is worth up to $15.5 million and includes $5 million guaranteed. In 2017, Bernard will earn a base salary of $1,600,000, a roster bonus of $1,125,000 and a workout bonus of $200,000, while carrying a cap hit of $3,675,000 and a dead cap value of $3,450,000. The Bengals could release Bernard next season and only suffer a $1.5 million cap hit, but it wouldn’t make sense to do that with Jeremy Hill’s contract also expiring after the 2017 season.
Bernard is easily the highest paid Bengals running back as Hill and Joe Mixon are still on their rookie deals. His base salary also makes him the 22nd highest paid running back in the NFL, according to Spotrac.
Bernard has shown in flashes his ability to be a really good running back, but he has never really gotten the chance to be showcased. When he was drafted in 2013 the team had Benjarvus Green-Ellis who Bernard split time with. By the later part of the season Bernard had started to take over the backfield, and it looked like 2014 would be his year.
However, the Bengals drafted Hill in the second round that season. Bernard started the season as the top running back, and he did very well. Unfortunately Bernard hurt his ribs early in the season, which gave Hill the chance to explode and take the starting job. During the past two seasons Bernard has split carries with Hill, and even when Hill has struggled, Bernard was never given the chance to steal back the lead role.
Despite all of this, Bernard had a three year streak of 1,000 yards from scrimmage going into last season. He continues to be a player who can contribute consistently both rushing and receiving, which is why the Bengals extended him last year.
Bernard isn’t going anywhere. The three headed monster the Bengals have constructed for this season could get crowded, but Hill’s contract expires next season, and Bernard still has three years of a very team-friendly deal left. Joe Mixon is expected to be an incredible talent, but he has yet to play a snap in the NFL.
Bernard is recovering well enough that he may avoid the PUP list. He didn’t participate in OTAs, other than making appearances on the rehab field. But that was incredible enough considering it hasn’t been that long since he injured his ACL last season. Still you shouldn’t be surprised to see Bernard miss the first few games, even if he’s on the active roster for those contests. Considering the running back situation and depth on the roster, there is no need to rush Bernard onto the field until he is fully recovered.
Bernard is probably motivated to get out there as soon as possible though. He and Hill probably understand that Mixon has high expectations from the coaches, and he will probably be given the chance to take away carries once he gets on a roll. The more time Bernard misses the less touches he will probably get per game. But, once he is healthy, Bernard is likely to be used on third down as a great pass-protection running back as well as pass-catching threat. His ability to help block for Andy Dalton has been one of his surprising strengths since joining the Bengals and a great asset for the team.
Next season though, after the Bengals let Hill walk, it will probably become the Mixon and Bernard show, a similar situation to what Bernard has seen during the course of his career. Bernard is a super valuable backup running back to have considering he could probably be a starter on a few teams.
Roster odds: 100 percent.