By now even your grandmother, God bless her soul, is predicting the Cincinnati Bengals will sign Joe Thuney in free agency next month.
No other impending free agent has been more frequently linked to the Bengals than the 28-year old Thuney, who grew up about an hour north of Cincinnati and left Kettering’s Alter High School as a two-star offensive lineman recruit.
Pro Football Focus is the latest to join the Thuney to Cincy bandwagon. Analyst Anthony Treash laid out his reasoning in PFF’s latest top 50 free agent rankings.
G JOE THUNEY
Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals — four years, $57 million ($35 million guaranteed)
It’s no secret that Cincinnati’s offensive line has been among the worst in the NFL for quite some time now — they have ranked in the bottom five in PFF grade in each of the last four years. Last season, they came in at No. 30 in combined offensive line PFF grade.
Left tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins performed quite well relative to their counterparts, but the rest of the line was a downright liability. And following the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow last year, they know they can’t afford to ignore the line in free agency.
They have the cap space to make a massive move in free agency to address that fact, and Thuney — who grew up just outside the Cincinnati area — could well be that big signing. Thuney ranks sixth among left guards in PFF grade since entering the league in 2016. He also has never ranked lower than 13th in a single season among all guards in WAR generated.
Thuney is a perfect fit, there’s no questioning that. The Bengals have the current and future cap space to sign the New England Patriots guard, they have the desperate need to add offensive linemen, and Thuney would get to play and be near his family. He was also a Bengals fan? He’s definitely a Skyline guy if you search his Twitter.
Looking at Thuney’s projected contract is where the questions start and end. The total money, the $57 million figure, is probably right around how much Thuney will sign for. Over four years, this nets an average annual value of $14.25M. It’s the guaranteed money that will need to be negotiated. The Bengals have never offered anywhere close to $35M guaranteed money in any contract, and in order for them to do that, they’d need to offer Thuney a signing bonus well above $20M, which would also be unprecedented for them.
The Bengals can still entice Thuney to sign with them without offering +$30M in true guarantees. This can be achieved with a sizable roster bonus and an escalated base salary in 2022 to go with a more reasonable signing bonus (let’s use D.J. Reader’s $16.25M signing bonus as an example). They’ll want to keep the 2021 base salary low, which is why Thuney wouldn’t cost $14M against the salary cap this year, but they’ll have room to raise his salary next year.
All of that can give the Bengals a chance to offer Thuney the largest two-year cash flow for a guard in NFL history. The mark to beat is Zack Martin’s $32M, which he accrued from 2018-2019. The Bengals can give Thuney a $33M cash flow from 2021-2022 while maintaining their traditional financial values.
What will very likely tip the scale in the Bengals' favor in signing Thuney is a strong 2-year cash flow. Give him the highest two-year cash flow of any guard in history, and you likely secure his services. Bengals can do that with their preferred contract structure.— Andre Perrotta (@andreperrotta13) February 18, 2021
It’s all about practical guarantees with Mike Brown’s family. The Bengals typically honor the full length of contracts they agree to and when they don’t, there’s usually a very good reason why.
Thuney will have to buy into that philosophy if the Bengals hope to acquire one of the league’s best pass protectors.