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Fixing the Bengals’ offensive line: Easier said than done

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There are no quick fixes for Cincinnati’s line woes.

NFL: Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals
Looking for help
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone seems to have the same advice on how to start fixing the Cincinnati Bengals: Go get offensive line help.

The problem is obvious. But just exactly where is the solution supposed to come from?

Normally, teams attempt to cure their offensive line woes through the draft. But the 2017 NFL Draft was one of the weakest as far as offensive linemen go in recent memory. That is why the Bengals waited until the fifth-round before spending a pick on J.J. Dielman.

And the Bengals tried to address what they saw as potential offensive line issues when they drafted Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, followed by Jake Fisher in the second round that same year. We see how well that is working out.

So where is the next place to look? How about the free agent pool? Are there any offensive linemen, tackles in particular, who are still waiting to be signed by a team?

The biggest name on the list of available free agents is former Miami Dolphins Branden Albert, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 15th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Branden made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2015 and was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in March of this year.

Albert, who is 32 years old, announced his retirement from football in July, then attempted to un-retire just over a week later. Jacksonville released Albert on August 11 of this year, and he has been out of football ever since.

Also on that list is Cyrus Kouandjio, who, at 24 years of age, would seem to be entering the prime of his athletic career. Kouandjio, who was released by the Detroit Lions before final cuts this year, was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.

Injuries have hampered Kouandjio’s development of late. He suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the first four games of the 2016 season. Kouandjio sustained a hip injury after falling at his home on January 26, 2017, and underwent surgery. But Kouandjio certainly has the pedigree, having been a standout at Alabama who was named first team, All-SEC in his junior and final season in college.

Of the top 50 free agents still available, those are the only two tackles on the list. Available guards include ex-Cleveland Brown John Greco; Orlando Franklin, who was most recently with New Orleans; Tim Lelito, who was a former starter and backup center for the Saints; and Andrew Tiller, who was signed and released by Kansas City.

The top center on the list of available free agents is former Baltimore Raven Jeremy Zuttah, who, after being drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a Pro Bowl selection with the Ravens just last year. Zuttah, who is 31 years old, was traded to San Francisco in March of this year and released in early August. Baltimore reacquired him in mid-August, but he was released during final roster cuts.

Also on the list is former New York Jet and seven-time Pro Bowler Nick Mangold. But, at 32 years old and with ankle injuries derailing his 2016 campaign, Mangold’s best days are definitely behind him. But he could provide valuable depth and leadership at a position where the Bengals are in need of both.

The only other center on that list is Tim Barnes, who was undrafted coming out of college but has some starting experience with the Rams. Barnes was signed by the 49ers in May of this year and released in final cuts.

The final place to look for offensive linemen is the waiver wire, and there are plenty to choose from. Unfortunately, there is a reason why those individuals were cut by other teams and why they are still available.

That is not to say that there may not be a diamond in the rough among the bunch who is just waiting to be discovered. Just look at Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who received a tryout with the Bengals as a tight end before being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end. Villanueva eventually joined the Steelers’ practice squad as an offensive tackle and has blossomed into one of the league’s best.

Needless to say, the job of supplementing the Bengals’ offensive line with quality players is not as some might suggest. Cincinnati may just have to continue to struggle with its current roster until the 2018 NFL Draft rolls around, at which time there appears to be ample opportunity for upgrades.

Heading the list of top offensive line candidates who will be draft eligible in 2018 is University of Washington offensive tackle Trey Adams. Adams, at 6’7" and 302 pounds, is the prototypical NFL left tackle who excels at run blocking but does an outstanding job in pass protection, as well.

Another potential first-round selection is Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams, who broke into the starting lineup in 2015 as a true freshman for the Longhorns. Williams, who stands 6’6" and started this season at around 315 pounds, relies on quickness and athleticism to dominate at the college level. Unfortunately, his season is now in doubt due to a knee injury.

Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, at 6’7" and 310 pounds, round out the list of potential first-round selections. McGlinchey probably would have been the first lineman selected in this year’s draft, but he decided to return for his senior season with the Fighting Irish.

Other intriguing candidates include Martinas Rankin, a 6’5, 307-pound offensive tackle from Mississippi State who is projected to go in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, and Florida offensive tackle/guard Martez Ivey, who should be no worse than a third-round pick. Ohio State offensive tackle Jamarco Jones is also projected to go within the first three rounds.

However you look at it, it took the Bengals years to get to the situation they are currently facing with an offensive line that is certainly not up to NFL standards. And it is going to take time to reverse the trend. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes.