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The pros and cons of a Bengals trade for Trai Turner

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The Panthers reportedly want to trade their stud right guard, but the Bengals (probably) aren’t the kind of team that will trade for him.

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Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Full-scale rebuilds are becoming more common in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns initiated one when John Dorsey was hired as their general manager. The Miami Dolphins didn’t try to hide theirs last season when they offloaded their best players for draft picks. They’re happening to teams that don’t have a clear future. They’re happening to teams that just hired new management.

They’re happening to teams like the current iteration of the Carolina Panthers.

With newly-hired head coach Matt Rhule set to begin a lengthy tenure in Charlotte, the Panthers appear to be looking towards the future. They watched Luke Kuechly retire and they mutually agreed to part ways with Greg Olsen, who soon after joined the Seattle Seahawks. It took them weeks to commit to Cam Newton as their quarterback for just the 2020 season, and there are rumblings of several key players leaving via free agency, most notably, cornerback James Bradberry.

After processing all of that, it’s no surprise that the Panthers are shopping their five-time Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner, which was first reported by ESPN’s Jenna Laine.

Selected by the Panthers in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft (four picks after Will Clarke mind you), Turner has translated his raw power and athleticism into a high-end NFL career. While all five of his Pro Bowl honors may not have truly been deserved, the former LSU Tiger has earned his standing as one of the better interior blockers in the game. His story is especially impressive considering he hit the ground running as a high-quality starter when he was a 21-year old rookie.

Turner’s productive first three years earned him a four-year $45 million contract extension that added onto the last year of his rookie deal, which was set to expire after the 2017 season. Looking back after three years, it was a smart transaction when taking his age and proven ability into account, and the Panthers shouldn’t feel cheated for their return on investment. But moving on from Turner now makes some sense for their current state of affairs.

Calling the soon-to-be 27-year old Turner a depreciating asset is a bit harsh, but who he is right now is about as good as he’s going to be. He’s been in a scheme that utilizes his strengths and he’s obviously received plenty of recognition for his play. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued him to a certain degree since he’s signed his extension, as seen by his Pro Football Focus grading.

Trai Turner Year-By-Year PFF Grading

Year Age Snaps Offensive Grade Pass Blocking Grade Run Blocking Grade Penalties
Year Age Snaps Offensive Grade Pass Blocking Grade Run Blocking Grade Penalties
2019 26 888 63.9 65.1 58.4 3
2018 25 762 65.8 79.6 56.6 3
2017 24 918 73.8 70.1 72.3 7
2016 23 1,098 67 64.5 70.8 12
2015 22 1,282 85.6 85.9 82.1 7
2014 21 811 72.1 84.1 66.1 3

Judging by this trajectory and his ever-increasing inconsistent tape, you can’t blame the Panthers too much for wanting out of his deal and getting decent compensation before his play regresses even more. They need draft picks and cap space if they want to do this right.

The question you’re probably asking is whether or not the Bengals should offer something for Turner. The answer contains as much nuance as you’d expect it to have.

Yes, there are risks in taking on the remainder of Turner’s contract. The Bengals would be responsible for what’s essentially a two-year $20.5M deal; that number being the remaining cash Turner is owed from a team trading for him. His cap hits are $12.9M and $15.4M, but that’s not what the Bengals or any NFL team cares about.

Those are financials that resemble what a player like Graham Glasgow could receive in free agency later this month, who may be more of an unlikely target than we thought. Knowing that now, would the Bengals not only take on this type of contract, but sacrifice what would likely be an early day three draft pick to do so? Logic points to no.

Think about this: when the Bengals traded for Cordy Glenn, not only did they acquire an upgrade along the offensive line, the number of draft picks they had didn’t shrink. Yes, they moved back nine spots in the first round, but they just swapped two picks with the Buffalo Bills. They didn’t give anything up quantitatively.

Just three times since Marvin Lewis was hired as Cincinnati’s head coach back in 2003 have the Bengals finished a draft with the standard seven picks. They’re a franchise that greatly values quantity come late April.

As of this writing, seven is the number of draft picks the Bengals have this year. Unless they manage to acquire more beforehand (cough-cough-Andy Dalton-cough), they’re not going to give any of them up. Because even though they won’t say it, I will: they’re rebuilding too.

The Glenn trade also made sense for them specifically because almost all of the guaranteed money in his contract had been paid by the Bills. Now that all of it has reached Glenn’s pockets, the Bengals are free to release or trade Glenn and they won’t be responsible for any dead money. This wouldn’t be the case for Turner, as he has $9.6M and 5.7M of dead money attached to him this year and next year, respectively.

The Bengals that we know and begrudgingly adore aren’t the organization that would pull this off, but in terms of what the Bengals need and reportedly are looking for this offseason, Turner makes a lot of sense.

Any real change along the Bengals’ offensive line will take place at right guard. This has been a constant in the rumor mill surrounding the team this offseason. Turner brings a pedigree and a set of rare traits to that position that the Bengals haven’t had since Kevin Zeitler was starting for them. If they want to truly challenge incumbent starter John Miller and justify benching him with two years left on his deal (because Michael Jordan’s starting job appears to be safe), Turner’s a guy to look at.

Adding Turner would obviously allow them more freedom in the draft. This isn’t a great interior offensive line class by any means, so acquiring Turner for a pick that will take place after the best players at his position are gone would be cost effective. The odds of a fourth or fifth-round pick lasting three years is already on the smaller side, so the risk there is marginal.

Lastly, while the Panthers are the party that wants to unload Turner somewhere else, a chance of scenery wouldn’t be the worst thing for Turner, either. A fresh start with a new coaching staff that wants to invest in him could be just what he needs to regain some consistency. Staying healthy will be an ongoing concern since he’s had trouble doing so for the past few years, but that’s part of the reason why he’s available in the first place.

Turner would be an addition that checks an important box on the Bengals’ offseason to-do list and a player of his talent is worth the price of a day three pick. There’s still a lot to like in his game and it’s entirely possible he’d benefit from a new environment. It’s the constricting financials and the giving up what little draft capital the Bengals have that will prevent it from happening, though.

And if the Bengals don’t want to trade for another offensive lineman that deals with chronic concussions, no one could really blame them that much.