Now that the biggest waves of NFL free agency have concluded while various rumors regarding the Cincinnati Bengals emerged, here is a look at the biggest winners and losers from what’s transpired over the last two weeks.
After bouncing from team to team in his first four years in the NFL, Samaje Perine appears to have finally found a home in the Queen City. He just signed a two-year contract that will pay him $3 million over the next two seasons. While not exactly breaking the bank, it’s a very nice payday for a guy who looked like he could fall out of the NFL completely after subpar stints with Washington Football Team and the Miami Dolphins.
Not even being assured of a roster spot going into the 2020 season, Perine turned out to be an important piece of the offense after Joe Mixon went down with his foot injury, all while playing behind arguably the NFL’s worst offensive line.
The former Oklahoma Sooners star went on to have the best season of his young career, as the 25-year-old ran for 301 yards and three scores for a 4.8 average, the highest by any Bengals running back logging significant snaps since Joe Mixon averaged 4.9 in 2018, which was offensive line coach Frank Pollack’s first stint in Cincinnati. Perine also had a 76.7 PFF grade, one of the highest of any Bengal last season.
Now that Pollack is back and veteran Giovani Bernard could be traded (more on him later), Perine could be primed for an even bigger role in this offseason next season.
Finally, the Bengals got rid of the professional turnstile that was Bobby Hart and replaced him with Riley Reiff, one of the top offensive tackles to hit free agency thus far. Hart was consistently among the NFL’s worst starting offensive lineman, so replacing him with a guy like Reiff has to bring joy to Joe Burrow, who may not have to be scrambling for his life every other play next season.
That’s not the only good news for Burrow, as he’s reportedly pushing for the Bengals to select former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they may be obliging. Even before that, the Bengals made a strong push for Kenny Golladay, so it’s clear Cincinnati wants to find another big-time weapon for Burrow heading into his second season.
Now that Reiff is set to take over at right tackle, Oregon tackle Penei Sewell is not a must-get. And as good as Sewell is, Chase is probably the guy who would make the biggest impact this year while giving Burrow a heck of an offensive skill group to work with.
One could argue that no one has been as big of a winner on defense thus far as Jordan Evans. When free agency began, it wasn’t even a sure thing the veteran backer would be back in Cincinnati, as the former sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma has struggled to step up in a defense that’s severely neglected the linebacker position recently.
Not only has Evans now been re-signed, he’s also in great position to have a significant role in this defense next season, not to mention remain a key player on special teams. The team still hasn’t re-signed Josh Bynes, who turns 32 in August. And the jury is still out on what Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey will be in this league.
Evans will still have a tough battle ahead to make the 53-man roster, but as things stand now, he’s in good shape to make it and play a significant role in 2021.
The Bengals will finally have a kicker not named Randy Bullock when the 2021 season kicks off. Bullock and his injured calves are now the Detroit Lions’ problem, which means Austin Seibert is now the primary kicker moving forward.
In four games with the Bengals last season, Seibert converted all eight of his extra points while hitting 6/8 field-goal attempts. The Bengals may still look to add competition here before training camp begins, but for now, Seibert is the Bengals’ kicker for 2021.
When Trey Hopkins tore his ACL in Week 17 last season, his status with the team moving forward became rather murky. That injury is tough to come back from, especially for players in the trenches, so many wondered if the Bengals would pursue another center to potentially replace Hopkins.
That has not happened thus far, and Hopkins is reportedly on pace to be ready for training camp. If the Bengals don’t add another center, then Hopkins will likely keep his job for at least one more season, as no one currently on the roster looks like a legitimate challenger for his job.
Drew Sample/C.J. Uzomah
While the Bengals have made a priority on upgrading the offense and surrounding Joe Burrow with more weapons, there’s been little-to-no buzz about upgrading the tight end position.
C.J. Uzomah is a serviceable option but is coming off a torn Achilles, which is always hard for any player at any position to come back from.
Drew Sample has shown flashes of being decent, but the jury is still out on if he can make it in this league as anything more than a second/third-string option.
But for now, the Bengals appear comfortable with both guys heading into the 2021 season.
Heading into the 2021 season, linebackers coach Al Golden cannot feel good about the group of players he’s currently working with.
While the Bengals rightfully focused on addressing the offensive/defensive lines and secondary this offseason, they completely neglected to address linebacker, which may now be the team’s biggest weakness. It’s actually gotten arguably worse since veteran Josh Bynes still hasn’t been re-signed.
As of now, the projected starters would come from a group of Logan Wilson (54.7 PFF grade), Germaine Pratt (41.5) Akeem Davis-Gaither (40.7) and/or Jordan Evans (61.0). Having that weak of a group is a big reason why the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens ran all over the Bengals over the last two seasons.
Golden definitely has his work cut out for him entering Year 2 with the Bengals, and he may not be around in 2022 if his unit performs as bad as they did last season, even though he’s not exactly been given much to work with.
While the greatest mustache in the tri-state is highly unlikely to be cut, the recent trade chatter surrounding him doesn’t bode well for his future in the Queen City. That’s even more true now that the team has re-signed Samaje Perine, who was arguably the Bengals’ best running back in 2020.
Even if Bernard is back, his role could be significant reduced if Joe Mixon is healthy and Perine can build off his promising first year in Cincinnati.
Auden Tate (maybe)
The Bernard trade rumors sound legitimate, but the Ja’Marr Chase rumors are more volatile since this could be just a pre-draft smokescreen. But after seeing how hard the Bengals pushed for Kenny Golladay, it definitely appears that the team is looking to find another impact boundary receiver, which is bad news for Tate as he heads into a contract year.
Tate has had some nice moments in his brief career, but he’s been unable to step up on a consistent basis and be a reliable weapon week to week. If Chase is added to the fold, it will pretty much signal the end of Tate’s run in Cincinnati going into 2022.