Whitworth was drafted by Cincinnati in 2006, but he didn’t start his career at tackle. The Bengals had Levi Jones, who at the time was talented in his own right. While Jones held down his spot, Whitworth played left guard most of the time. He would kick out to tackle when Jones was injured. After three seasons of essentially being Jones’ understudy, Whitworth was finally given the keys to the left tackle position when the Bengals parted ways with Jones following the 2008 season.
For the next nine seasons, Whitworth slowly evolved from one of the best kept secrets in the NFL, to a multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl left tackle. For the bulk of his career with the Bengals, he played at a high level with little to no recognition. Even now in his 13th season he is only finally being recognized as one of the top talents in the NFL as he protects the blindside of one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses.
It is still hard to ignore the longevity of his career. Whitworth just turned 37 in December. He is the NFL’s oldest lineman, which is just an incredible feat when you think about it. It isn’t uncommon to see a quarterback or kicker reach that age, but offensive linemen deal with getting collisions on every single play. That is an incredible amount of punishment to take, and it really is a credit to Whitworth’s physical abilities that he is not only able to still play but play at a high level.
“To be the oldest offensive lineman in the league and have an opportunity to play in this game is tremendous and something that I worked 13 years for and played, I don’t know, 12-13,000 snaps in NFL football to have this opportunity,” Whitworth told Grant Gordon of NFL.com, “so I couldn’t be more excited and honestly just pumped up for the moment of going out there and having this chance.”
Bengals fans remember very clearly hearing the news that Whitworth was moving on to join the Rams after the Bengals decided ultimately not to give him a competitive offer on the open market. He was 35 at the time, and he was only one season removed from his first All-Pro selection. Up until that point, Cincinnati had offered him one-year deals while they also spent a first round selection on his apparent replacement in Cedric Ogbuehi. To be fair, Whitworth has defied the odds and remains one of the best left tackles in the NFL.
It should still be easy for Cincinnati to root for their former star though. It isn’t his fault that another team was willing to offer him the stability of a multi-year contract. He also in many ways shaped the current Bengals as we know it. He was a major leader when Andy Dalton and A.J. Green came to town after Carson Palmer chose to force Mike Brown’s hand by threatening retirement. He is the NFL player and person that everyone should just aspire to be. Even after all this time, the love of the game still drives him.
“Really when I sat down and weighed [the idea of retiring], I said you know what I just love the game too much,” Whitworth said. “I love the opportunity of being in the locker room too much and felt like I could still play at a high level and so for me it honestly was just you know what I’m gonna keep pressing on.”
I’m sure the money and getting to live in Los Angeles doesn’t hurt anything either, but at 37 and having more than a decade of NFL football under your belt, you’d be hard pressed to find a lineman who still loves the game of football like that.