Life comes at you fast, sometimes faster than a Geno Atkins swim move.
Atkins had already entered the back-half of his Hall of Fame career when the calendar changed from 2019 to 2020, but any major drop off from the two-time All-Pro wasn’t expected this soon. He’s Geno Atkins! Even at age 32, he was still going to be effective. But a new reality struck before the month of September arrived last year.
Atkins injured his shoulder during a training camp scrimmage in late August, just two weeks before the season-opener. In unfortunate Bengals fashion, the injury was worse than it was originally reported as being. Atkins was not placed on Injured Reserve despite new rules allowing the club to keep him on there for just three weeks. Instead, he was inactive for the first month of the season.
He finally debuted in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens. The No. 97 jersey was out there on the field, but it was not being worn by the Atkins we once knew.
Atkins played just 19 snaps in that embarrassing road loss to the Ravens. He only appeared in just seven more games after, and he never played more than 19 snaps in any of them.
It was clear that Atkins was never fully healthy and recovered from that shoulder injury. This was all-but confirmed when the club placed him on I.R. in December, effectively shutting down his season. At that time, it was reported that Atkins would have surgery to repair his injured shoulder.
Once August turned to September, he never had a chance.
Atkins finished 2020 with an aforementioned eight games played, 119 total defensive snaps, three quarterback pressures, and one tackle. The lack of tackle production can be explained by only 12 his snaps coming on run plays. The lack of pass-rushing production, well, is beyond underwhelming.
It’s not like Atkins was even expected to be a workhorse last season. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo made it a point of emphasis that Atkins would be rotated more frequently to keep him fresh towards the late part of the season. The rotation had to be amped up because he simply wasn’t himself. He never was after the injury.
Players play hurt all the time; this isn’t anything groundbreaking. When the player in question is approaching his mid-30s and he has one of the largest cap-hits on the roster, some nuance gets thrown into the conversation. This is ultimately why Atkins has been speculated as a cap-casualty ever since his season ended.
In all likelihood, Atkins’ surgery will help him get fully healthy this offseason. He may’ve lost a year, but all that talent didn’t just vanish. The Bengals know this better than anyone. They should also know that—eventually—athleticism always loses to Father Time. A.J. Green’s 2020 season proved that point very clearly.
Atkins’ game is built on rare quickness and explosion paired with inordinate strength for his size. How much of that is left after 11 years and a couple major injuries along the way?
The drop-off we witnessed last year was a jarring one. Atkins should have another year or two left in the tank as a player worthy of some roster spot. But unless he accepts a major pay-cut by the team that has already paid him nearly $100 million in total cash, he’ll be on one of the other 31 rosters this upcoming season.
This is goodbye for now to the man who preferred to let his play do the talking, very literally.