Despite an aggressive revamping of the offensive line last offseason, the unit’s struggles persisted for the Bengals, specifically with the interior.
Last season it was a mix of rookie center Billy Price getting his feet under him and Alex Redmond being far too inconsistent to warrant being a starter. Of course Clint Boling remind the bright spot at left guard, but it still shouldn’t be shocking to see some competition brought in at center and right guard.
Competition at center does not equate to the potential benching of Price though, but would open the possibility to moving him over to right guard, which is a position he also played a considerable amount at Ohio State. The Bengals have nice options with Trey Hopkins and Christian Westerman on the roster already, but with Zac Taylor taking over, we shouldn’t expect him and his staff to automatically bank on players from the previous regime alone.
Pro Football Focus recently released their top 10 interior lineman set to be free agents. Although it is really a top nine since the Colts guard, Mark Glowinski, recently signed an extension to stay with the Indianapolis Colts. While it’s easy to say Cincinnati should go out and sign a few of the top five names, that really isn’t how the Bengals build their teams, in case you’ve forgotten. These will be players who could be in the Bengals’ self-imposed budget while also providing valuable depth or starting ability.
Here are some guys they should look at and how likely it’d be the Bengals would land them.
Most likely to sign
Rodger Saffold, guard, Rams: Saffold is second on PFF’s list, but there is solid reasoning as to why the Bengals represent a logical match. The most obvious connection is Taylor having coached the Rams the past two seasons. This would be valuable for Taylor in his attempt to establish the kind of locker room that he is hoping to bring over from Los Angeles. It is always imperative to have veteran players bridge the gap.
Saffold will also be 31 when the season starts, which means some of the higher spenders may stray away from adding him as any long term deal could backfire on them.
Playing next to Andrew Whitworth at left guard, Saffold played a key role in the Rams’ offensive line being so successful last season, and he ranked as the ninth best guard in the NFL, according to PFF. Saffold would likely make the move to right guard, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the veteran.
John Miller, guard, Bills: Miller is one of those low risk type free agents. He doesn’t have an amazing track record recently, but he is only 25 years old. So, he still just hitting the prime of his career. PFF also only charged him with one sack in 529 pass attempts this past season, which is a major upgrade over Redmond’s performance. Miller has the floor of being a valuable backup with the possibility of finally turning into a starter in a new location.
A.J. Cann, guard, Jaguars: Cann started off his career looking like he would turn into a pretty good starting guard, but he has fallen off the past two seasons. He will also turn 28 in October. He is another low risk player who isn’t likely to get a blockbuster deal in free agency. Cincinnati took a chance on a former Jaguar who wasn’t quite reaching expectations before when they acquire safety Reggie Nelson, so it is possible they try to repeat history and revive Cann’s career.
An outside shot
Matt Paradis, center, Broncos: Paradis is PFF’s top ranked interior offensive lineman free agent, but the reason Cincinnati has a little bit of a chance could very well be business related. Paradis will be turning 30 in October, which means he likely realizes he has one big contract left in his career, and especially after playing on a sixth rounder’s contract the past few years, he will likely look for his payday.
The only way Cincinnati has a shot is if teams are’t willing to give him the big deal he deserves. He is coming off a broken fibula in Week 9, which could scare some potential suitors away. The Bengals should attempt to swoop in with a one-year deal similar to what they’ve attempted to do with veteran linebackers over the years.
Paradis is easily one of the best centers in the NFL, and he could ultimately start right away while moving Price over to guard. Paradis would also be a great teacher for Price during that season, so if he were to leave in free agency the following season, at least Price would hopefully be more prepared to take back over. So many things have to go right for this to end up happening, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.
Ramon Foster, guard, Steelers: This isn’t as much of a long shot, but it really depends on Foster’s market in free agency. At the age of 33, his quality of play has gotten better over time, and he’s been a consistent component to one of the most dominating offensive lines over the past few years with the Steelers. Even if is on a short term deal, he could be a great veteran to bring in and help turnaround the Bengals struggling offensive line. He isn’t a great long term solution, but he would be an instant upgrade over Redmond.