The Bengals reminded us in 2020 that free agency certainly doesn’t end in the Spring.
Among the many personnel issues their roster had last season, the guard position was simply in an atrocious state for Cincinnati. Desperate measures were needed even before the midseason mark as Michael Jordan was struggling and three other players could not competently make up for the loss of Xavier Su’a-Filo.
Quinton Spain was the Bengals’ on-the-fly solution.
Any other city aside from Buffalo could not have been on Spain’s mind when the season began. He had just signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Bills back in March to start as their left guard. That didn’t seem to matter shortly after the season began.
Spain was benched after the Bills’ first two games of the season. His demotion lasted just a week, but he then injured his foot in his first game back in Week 4. That would be the last time he played for the Bills, as he was released not three weeks later.
Eight days pass and Spain joins the Bengals’ practice squad. He was officially added to the roster on Friday, October 30th, less than two days before their Week 8 game against the Tennessee Titans. Spain had no idea he was not only going to play in that game, but play nearly the entirety of that game, but he did.
Spain’s debut came on the second drive of the game as the coaching staff wanted to see how he performed at left guard compared to Deion Calhoun, who started the game. Spain never left the field once he stepped onto it, and just like that, the Bengals settled on a new starter.
The Bengals were able to beat Spain’s original team that day with his help, but there was still room for improvement for the 29-year old guard. Spain had been regressing since his final season with the Titans back in 2018; the players who become street free agents in the middle of the season aren’t usually the players who you would be comfortable starting. But to reiterate, the Bengals were desperate, and Spain did his best to earn his place.
In his nine games with the Bengals, Spain played 543 snaps. 403 of them came at right guard, but it took him a month to settle down at that spot. He went from left guard, to right tackle, to right guard, back to left guard, and finally back to right guard, where he stayed for the final five weeks of the season.
It was during those five weeks that we were able to fairly evaluate the current version of Spain. To his credit, he had himself a pretty crazy year and a lot was asked of him leading up to this stretch of the season, but he was not particularly good to close the year out. Out of 57 starting guards from Week 13-17, Spain ranked 49th in pass blocking grade and 31st in run blocking grade per Pro Football Focus. In the words of comrade Dyatlov: “Not great, not terrible.”
The Bengals needed Spain at right guard this past season, but if they wish to bring him back for 2021, they should evaluate him at his natural position. Spain has been a left guard ever since he entered the league in 2015 and may have another quality year in him at that spot. That would work out great for the Bengals since they have no concrete answer at that position. A competition between him and Su’a-Filo would make a lot of sense.
Spain can still part of the solution to the Bengals’ offensive line woes, he just can’t be the solution.