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Free agency do or don’t: Should Russell Bodine’s stint in Cincinnati be over?

The Bengals’ offensive line is in shambles, and it all starts in the middle.

NFL: Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When Marvin Lewis spoke on keeping Bengals center Russell Bodine this free agency a couple weeks ago, no one should’ve been entirely shocked by the news. The Bengals under Lewis have been notorious for prioritizing value over everything when it came to re-signing their own.

Bodine, despite his many shortcomings, has never missed a start in his four-year career, and will not command anywhere near a high salary on the open market. Those two aspects of Bodine’s profile make him an attractive option, perhaps the favorite, for the position he’s maintained since 2014. This was easy to understand, but not to accept.

Free Agency is still about a month away and Bodine has not signed a new deal with the Bengals yet, but Lewis’s comments on the matter remain the latest update towards what Cincinnati is thinking of doing. In other words, we have nothing to believe at the moment other than the Bengals are planning on bringing back Bodine in some capacity. Before we go in-depth about the potential positives of the move, let’s rehash why this would not be a smart plan.

Pre-existing limitations

Going back to the weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, the Bengals released their long-time starter at Center Kyle Cook and entered the draft looking for a replacement. Cook was a solid piece on the Bengals offensive line in the early part of his career, but injuries eventually diminished his ability at the position, which ultimately led to his release with two-years left on his five-year contract. Cook was once a decent player, which is more than Bodine has been over the past four years. And that was certainly the case in 2017.

Many of the issues we’ve seen from Bodine have been with him since his days in college at North Carolina. He’s always had trouble anchoring, getting out in front on reach blocks in outside zone concepts and just sustaining movement though contact and hand-fighting. To most, those issues and limitations where the backbone of a mediocre-at-best evaluation. That label pretty much describes Bodine to a tee.

Minimal improvement since rookie year

So many times his subpar play can be isolated with just the naked eye, that it doesn’t matter what scheme, or matchup he’s up against. He just gets flat-out beaten, and it’s been consistent for four years.

This intertwines with his aforementioned limitations. With his build and lack-of short area quickness, the overall upside of Bodine has never been great. At best, an average starter was all the Bengals could’ve hoped for due to his lack of ideal length and quickness. Bodine needed to become a masterful technician with his frame and feet, and it hasn’t happened yet. To believe it ever will all come together is short-sighted.

When Kevin Zeitler was at right guard, Bodine was in-between two quality starters, and the overall play in the interior of the offensive line was much more consistent because of it. It was a decent way to shield Bodine and limit his responsibilities to a certain extent. But Zeitler is long gone, and even though Clint Boling had another good season, we saw the poor results of last season’s interior group without Bodine being shielded by two quality guards. One guy can’t do it alone. Boling’s backside of his career can be a lot smoother if he doesn’t have to worry about covering for either of the guys next to him.

New offensive line coach, new expectations

This may not be exactly true since we don’t have ears in Paul Brown Stadium, but there’s logic in it. Paul Alexander was the driving force behind the Bengals trading up for Bodine, an act they rarely commit. Whether it was out of desperation, or Alexander truly thought highly of Bodine in the pre-draft process, Alexander repeatedly stood up for Bodine and defended his play. Not once did the Bengals with Alexander bring in competition for Bodine at the position, and while that presumably helped his confidence, it didn’t help the rest of the position-group.

Now that Alexander’s gone, Frank Pollack is the guy calling the shots. Pollack has been coaching the league’s best center Travis Frederick for the past five years, it’s hard to imagine he’ll accept being stuck with Bodine, or that he’ll have no say in what the team should do at the position. Pollack’s resume of working with Dallas’s dominant line is what made him an attractive replacement for Alexander, but every great coach still needs talent that can be molded.

Pollack did toe the line on giving his blessing towards the Bengals bringing back Bodine during the Senior Bowl. However, this could be chalked up to not wanting there to be bad blood if Bodine is brought back.

It won’t take much to upgrade

I’ll admit it, this is sort of harsh, but it’s not false. Bodine has been amongst the worst starting centers in the league year-in and year-out. The majority of centers on the free agent market with starting experience should be considered an upgrade over the 25 year old just on ability alone.

Not only that, but the top centers entering the draft possess traits in their game that Bodine never had, and they can give the Bengals better play at the position from the get-go for a lot less than what it would cost for Bodine on a second contract. The Bengals have a known commodity in Bodine that they feel comfortable with. If they’re going to move on with someone outside of the team, it’ll be for someone cheaper, AKA: a rookie.

There’s two sides of every coin, albeit this side looks much more attractive. We’ll go over the positives of a potential Bodine return very soon.