The goal of free agency is to improve the roster, but that doesn’t always come with acquiring talent at the peak of their careers.
The mindset “what have you done for me lately” dominates NFL culture, and for good reason. But in a hard cap world, maximizing value is critical in building the best roster possible. You can target the top guys that require the most lucrative contracts or earliest draft picks, or you can bet on value with the plan of getting the most out of players who can be brought in with minimal resources.
When the latter path works out, they are the acquisitions that boost a general manager’s track record the most. That’s what appears to be happening with Quinton Spain and the Bengals.
Now 30 years old and playing in his seventh season, Spain was conceivably in the lowest point of his professional career this time last year. His 2020 season has been retold many a time; getting benched a few weeks into a three-year contract with the Buffalo Bills and subsequently getting cut is a bad beat. The Bengals picked him up because they needed him badly. They ended up needing him at three different positions, and the results were as predictable as you could imagine.
2021 was thought to act as a total reset for the Bengals’ offensive line. New coach, and new personnel. The whole shebang. They got the new (or old) coach in Frank Pollack. They got the new right tackle in Riley Reiff, and new right guard in Jackson Carman. But sandwiched in-between all those moves was the re-signing of Spain.
While his situation was not ideal last year, the most recent version of Spain did not leave many Bengals fans confident in his ability to start going forward. That he was the only veteran addition to a position the team needed to get right was even more concerning.
Five weeks into the new season, those concerns have been extinguished.
Jonah is tied with Tyron Smith for the least pressures given up, but Quinton Spain is the leader amongst left guards.— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 13, 2021
Spain has also only given up 1 single pressure in True Pass Sets (61 snaps).
Rodney Hudson is the ONLY lineman in the NFL yet to surrender a pressure in TPS.
Spain has been exactly what Cincinnati needed him to be this year. Back at his natural position at left guard with a full offseason of preparation behind him, Mr. Undrafted has produced at a top-tier level in pass protection. The Bengals have only averaged about a dozen true pass plays a game so far, but Spain has been basically perfect protecting Joe Burrow on those drop backs.
In his latest start, Spain faced off against a variety of interior defensive linemen for the Green Bay Packers and turned in another clean performance. I broke down some notable reps from the Bengals’ left guard.
The difference a year can make is immense. Stability, continuity, and overall environment all seem to have impacted Spain in a positive way. He’s going on one year being with the franchise and around a lot of the same faces. He’s also been practicing and playing at the same position since he signed his one-year deal back in March. The transition to Pollack’s coaching and consistency with his scheme is evident as well.
There’s still 12 games to go, but Spain does not look done as a starting-caliber guard in this league. That’s great news for his not only the Bengals, but his agent as well. Cincinnati is getting this level of play for just over $1 million in total salary. If he continues to perform well, he could play his way into one final multi-year deal. And the Bengals would have first dibs on offering that.
For over a decade, the Bengals have been criticized for their penny-pinching ways. In reality, their goal has always been to maximize value, they’ve just been unsuccessful too many times, specifically when it comes to building an offensive line. When the entire NFL world was begging them to bring out the brinx truck for new blockers, they chose the same path they’ve always taken. This time, it just happens to be working.
But don’t expect Spain to be as affordable next Spring if he keeps this up.