Josh Bynes did exactly what the Bengals brought him in to do.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, Bynes wasn’t even a regular starter until his fifth season. He only started nine games in his first three seasons with the Ravens, with three of them coming in Baltimore’s 2012 Super Bowl run. But that was just the beginning of his NFL journey.
Bynes joined the Detroit Lions in 2014, but didn’t start any games until the next year. He started eleven games in 2015, making 56 total tackles and assisting 26, combining for 82 total tackles.
Over the next few years, Bynes bounced around from the Lions, to the Arizona Cardinals, and back to the Ravens. He moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, and carved out a role as the first linebacker off the bench.
2015 was his best statistical season, but even though he was never a full-time starter, he was doing well for an undrafted player. But he stuck around the league long enough to learn from his experience.
Entering 2020, the Bengals had Germaine Pratt and Jordan Evans. Pratt was in his second year, and Evans was still on his rookie contract. They would also draft Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Markus Bailey.
The average age of a Bengals linebacker was 24 years old, and the group had a combined 61 games of experience. So the Bengals signed a 31-year old Bynes, who had 101 games of experience under his belt.
In 2020, Bynes started 16 games for the first time in his career. He had 99 tackles, which was a new career high. Not surprisingly, when you start more games, you tend to have higher production.
Bynes’ one-year contract paid him just $1.65 million, which includes his salary and bonuses. For that, they got a 16-game starter, a solid tackler, a team captain, and a coach on the field.
Bynes was worth every cent the Bengals paid him this year, and after playing out his one-year deal, it should be safe to assume that his time in Cincinnati is done. But nothing is written in stone just yet. Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic actually expects the Bengals to retain him.
The next logical step would be for the rookies of last season to take Bynes’ place. Perhaps that will happen whether or not Bynes is on the team next season, but Bynes can still provide a veteran presence in a more limited role.
The Bengals had a productive offseason, but the group of incoming free agents largely failed to live up to expectations. Bynes and Vonn Bell were the only free agents to start all 16 games.
For the production and leadership he provided, Bynes was the best bargain the Bengals got in free agency. That may be why a surprise return is in store.