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Free agency do or don’t: Understanding a potential second contract for Russell Bodine

Rationalizing the Bengals potentially re-sign one of their worst starters is difficult. But when you think like Mike Brown, it makes sense.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we talked about why Russell Bodine has overstayed his welcome as the Bengals starting center, and why the team should move on from their four-year starter. However, as previously reported, the Bengals have been nothing short of bullish in regards to Bodine’s future in Cincinnati.

Why has this been the case? Bodine has been at best a below average starter for the duration of his rookie contract, and his room to grow has all but evaporated. To comprehend this, we need to think from the Bengals perspective.

Easy on the books

This should come as no surprise, but bringing back Bodine on a second contract will not cost the Bengals a pretty penny. Last offseason, the Jaguars reset the market for centers by extending Brandon Linder’s contracting. He’s the only center in the league with an average salary just north of 10 million per year, and Bodine simply will not command anywhere near that figure on the open market. He may not even won’t even get half that number, but hedging your bets on contract numbers with the Bengals is always advised.

The Bengals rarely go out of their way to make a player the next highest player in the league at their respective position, and typically target players that will give them the most value. Bodine’s average salary per year over his rookie contract was just under $670,000, so a significant raise will still be relatively low compared to other veteran deals the Bengals have agreed to.

The best example of this practice is Clint Boling. Boling’s rookie contract compensated him an average salary of $630,000, making him at the time of his free agency, one of the least expensive starting guards in the league. Boling’s extension raised his average salary to over 5 million per year over five years, which is a relatively substantial raise. In addition, his average guaranteed money per year became one million per year, which currently ranks 15th out of all left guards. To this day, the Bengals are getting value for Boling’s play.

Boling was a much better player than Bodine entering his fifth year, so Bodine’s next contract may not have that five-year length, but the principle will remain the same.

Durability and experience

Along with his affordability, Bodine’s constant availability is another plus in the eyes of Bengals management. Since becoming the opening day starter his rookie year, Bodine has not missed a single start. In his 64 starts, only three of them saw him play less than 100% of the offense’s snaps. He’s never incurred even a mild injury that’s caused him to miss time. This goes back to value gained for his minimal salary; Bodine has proven to be at the very least someone who will earn every penny he’s given. That’s huge to a franchise that operates like the Bengals.

Those 64 starts on his résumé also gives Bodine an advantage over a potential rookie replacement in the eyes of the Bengals coaches. Any rookie center potentially selected by the Bengals in this year’s NFL Draft will cost less than what Bodine will be offered as a starter, but Bodine’s experience in the Bengals offense will be a prime reason why he is advertised as a wiser investment.

Continuity at all cost

That experience ties in to this last point. Bodine and Boling where the only offensive lineman to play over 75% of the offense’s snaps. In general, teams do not go far in a season if they experience constant changes up front, and continuity was severely lacking on the Bengals offensive. Injuries, bad play, and experimentation all played a role into this, and it’s something the Bengals figure to prioritize this upcoming season.

With a new offensive line coach in Frank Pollack coming in, it would make sense to start fresh with new faces. But the opposite approach could be perceived as the team’s best interest to maintain familiarity in hopes to salvage the current group. This reasoning has its faults for sure, but looking at how this organization constructs a roster year in and year out, it’s definitely along the lines of predictable.

Speaking of Pollack, a likely reason the Bengals brought him on the staff is the possibility of his coaching improving the poor performers on the offensive line, Bodine included. While unlikely, Bodine is on the younger side at just 25 and could benefit from a fresh coaching approach. How much it will actually show on the field is another story entirely.

After four years, Bodine is 9th on the Bengals all-time starts list for centers, and with another 16 start season with the team, he’ll move up to 5th. With a new contract as a starter, he’ll be on his way to approaching Dave Lapham and Bob Johnson’s spots on the list. But if the Bengals decide to move on, they can look to get significantly better at the position if they approach that process correctly. What will they do? We don’t know. But we should be equally prepared for whatever happens.