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Bengals free agency: Goodbye, Jeremy Hill

After an impressive rookie campaign, Hill’s tenure with the Bengals will likely end in disappointment. Yet, Cincinnati’s running back roster is really good shape.

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Second-round rookie running back Jeremy Hill made an explosive impact with the Bengals in 2014, leading the team in yards rushing (1,124), yards from scrimmage (1,339), and touchdowns (nine). He became only the second rookie (Paul Robinson, 1968) in franchise history to generate 150 yards rushing or more in two games, earned the Fed-Ex Ground Player of the Week against the Jaguars, and over the last nine weeks during his rookie season, led the NFL with 929 yards rushing. And the nation witnessed this on Monday Night Football:

Then year two happened.

Hill finished 2015 tied with Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, Pittsburgh’s DeAngelo Williams, and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson with 11 rushing touchdowns. However, his 3.6 yard/rush average fell short of his impressive 5.1 yard/rush mark during his rookie season. Over the course of his first three seasons with the Bengals, Hill posted 29 rushing touchdowns; while he was Cincinnati’s go-to option for short yardage situations, his impact between the 20s was minimal.

With Joe Mixon joining the roster during the 2017 NFL draft and Giovani Bernard signing a three-year extension on June 8, 2016, Hill, a unrestricted free agent this March, became the oddman out.

Yep. The writing was on the wall. He saw it. We saw it. We haven’t been this certain about someone’s departure since Marvin Lewis.

Between 2014 and 2016, Hill averaged 14.2 carries/game as the team’s bellcow back. In seven games in 2017, Hill posted 37 total rushes (mostly during the first possession of each half) and never more than seven in any one game. Then he suffered an ankle injury during practice prior to Cincinnati’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was placed on Injured Reserve soon after. Why? Well, it wasn’t so much the injury as it was the procedure he elected to have done immediately.

“Jeremy thinks he needs to have ankle surgery,” Lewis said at the time. “Yeah, I think I would be (surprised). I think he’s consulted a couple physicians, both said that this was something that could wait until after the season but he just felt like it was causing too much discomfort.”

We suspect discomfort implies economic opportunities in free agency. Having a procedure in November creates a comfortable timeline towards recovery, providing him with a clean bill of health when he speaks with new teams, conducts a workout, or takes a physical. Had the procedure happened at the end of the season, his recovery could bite into free agency and possibly hurt his economic opportunities. That being said, Hill did what he felt was right for his future and no one can really blame him for that; his playing time had significantly diminished, fans had grown tired of his three-yard average, his coach was calling him out through the media, and this team wasn’t going to the playoffs.

Hill is gone.

However, the Bengals have a reliable group of running backs remaining. Giovani Bernard, coming off an ACL injury, posted over 840 yards from scrimmage, and significantly improved as the season dragged into December (largely with the help of improved offensive line play). Bernard secured 116 yards rushing against the Detroit Lions, scored touchdowns in two of the last three games, and averaged over five yards rushing in four of the final five games of the season. Mixon added a 114-yard effort against the Browns (week 11), a 96-yard game against the Ravens (week 17), and averaged over 4.8 yards per rushing in four of the last five games.

The Bengals are in good hands at running back.

Cincinnati has five running backs signed in 2018:

  1. Giovani Bernard, ($3.5 million in cash, $4.25 million cap)
  2. Joe Mixon, ($712,735 in cash, $1,238,675 million cap)
  3. Tra Carson ($555,000 in cash and cap)
  4. Brian Hill ($555,000 in cash, and cap)
  5. Jarveon Williams ($555,000 in cash and cap)