The Bengals have always been cheap, but you can trace their worst instance of frugality to less than two years ago when left tackle Andrew Whitworth was up for a new contract.
The then-35-year old lineman was going into his 12th year in the NFL and by all means was still playing at a high level. The season before in 2015, Whitworth agreed to a one-year contract extension that ended up paying him $9 million for the 2016 season. That season wasn’t a success by any means after they concluded the year with just six wins, but Whitworth was far from the problem.
Entering that offseason, all reports were leading to the same conclusion: Whitworth would return to Cincinnati. Even up to the final days before free agency began, this was the expectation.
And when the time finally came, the Bengals sat on their hands and watched their star left tackle leave for the west coast to join the Los Angeles Rams.
In a Rams podcast that premiered last week, Whitworth was asked what made him confident that new head coach Sean McVay would be able to turn around the Rams with his assistance. His answer also revealed the financial reasoning as to why he chose to join the team.
“Honestly, I had three or four offers that were all really right the same. The only real offer for me, unfortunately, that wasn’t equivalent to the others was the team I was with, the Cincinnati Bengals.”
The Bengals were coming off a disappointing season that followed a tumultuous playoff loss, but their disarray was still not to the extent of what the Rams were at the time. In their first season following their move to Los Angeles, they finished with a record of 4-12, had invested a first-overall pick in a quarterback that looked far from worth it, and just fired their head coach.
Yet Whitworth took a chance on them. Why? Because they actually valued him properly.
As originally reported by ESPN’s Katherine Terrell following Whitworth’s decision, the Bengals offered Whitworth a one-year contract that was worth up to $10 million with incentives. Compared to a three-year deal that will end up paying him nearly $35 million at the conclusion of next season, the decision was no decision at all.
Whitworth was more than just a great player even in his mid-30s, his outstanding leadership heavily attributed to the Bengals’ five-consecutive postseason appearances. Cincinnati hasn’t even come close to replacing him in that facet, let alone his production on the field. The fact that he of all people was victimized by the Bengals’ thriftiness is one of the great tragedy’s in the history of this organization.
This isn’t exactly news, but the wound feels fresh once more with it being reiterated by the man himself.