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Bengals roster breakdown, 90-in-90: Russell Bodine suddenly a veteran presence

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2017 should be Bodine’s last chance as the starting center for the Bengals but it’s possible that no matter how he plays he’ll get an extension before becoming a free agent in 2018.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Bodine is entering his first career contract year as the undisputed starter at center for the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite starting for every game during the past three years, he’s yet to show he’s a reliable starter in the NFL. With the team’s two best linemen departing in the offseason, the Bengals are hoping Bodine can improve his performance to become the anchor the offensive line needs so badly.

Russell Bodine

Position: Center

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 308 pounds

College: North Carolina

Hometown: Woodbridge, Virginia

Experience: Fourth-year player

Draft status: 4th-round pick, 111th overall in 2014

Cap status

Bodine is signed to a four-year, $2,676,456 contract including a $456,456 signing bonus, $456,456 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $669,114. In 2017, the final year of the deal, Bodine will earn a base salary of $1,797,000, while carrying a cap hit of $1,911,114 and a dead cap value of $114,114, according to Spotrac.

Bodine’s salary was increased via the proven performance escalator, a system that rewards players drafted between the third and the seventh round if they play in 35 percent of their team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of their first three years or average 35 percent playing time cumulatively. Bodine has done that as he’s started every game during the past three years since joining the team.

Background

Bodine has been one of the worst starting offensive linemen in the league since the Bengals traded up in the 2014 NFL Draft to select him, and amid an often-great line led by Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, he always looked like the one stopping the unit from becoming the best in the NFL. Now those two are gone and Bodine is entering his fourth year in Cincinnati, in which it’s time to step up or step away.

Last season the former Tar Heel actually improved a little upon his first two campaigns in the league, but the entire offensive line struggled out of the gate with Cedric Ogbuehi failing badly at right tackle. Not that Bodine was much better, but with another hole on the right side, Bodine wasn’t the biggest concern, which he had been for the former three years. While he improved in 2017, he was still far from a finished product, and offensive line coach Paul Alexander even benched him for the first time in his career during the team’s game against the Ravens after an inexcusable mistake. Backup center T.J. Johnson fared well and many fans noticed, despite the benching being short-lived for Bodine.

Bodine showed some flashes in the running game in spite of Jeremy Hill’s struggles but his lack of agility, slow feet and occasional mental errors are still present in his game. He was ranked 35rd out of 38 centers by Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and 29th among centers in Pro Football Focus’ grading. The Bengals usually take a very long time to admit they made a mistake with a player - consider Rey Maualuga wasn’t released until March, but Bodine’s benching, the re-signing of Johnson this offseason and the drafting of utility lineman J.J. Dielman in the fifth-round of the recent draft could mean Cincinnati is ready to move on from Bodine if he doesn’t improve this season.

Roster chances

Bodine is playing this season for a future contract with the Bengals, but not for his roster spot in 2017, which is practically guaranteed unless something weird happens or Alexander is ready to own up to his mistakes. Cincinnati lost two longtime starters in its offensive line and Bodine is one of the few with experience there, although the team brought in old friend Andre Smith to man the right guard position.

Johnson played well when called upon last season and Dielman could be seen by the front office as a cheap in-house replacement after the 2017 season. Regardless, Bodine figures to keep the starting job this season with almost nothing standing in his way.

Roster odds: 99.9 percent.