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Trae Waynes is exactly what Bengals need in sea of change

Trae Waynes can provide the veteran leadership to get this unit on the same page in a sea of change.

Divisional Round - Minnesota Vikings v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals opened some eyes during the 2020 offseason when they spent big to improve their defense. Trae Waynes was a big part of that when they decided to give the veteran a three-year, $42 million contract.

Unfortunately, Waynes remains an unknown for this team after missing all of last season with a pectoral injury. His injury ended up sending a huge ripple effect after the entire corner unit was essentially a revolving door with tons of injuries having players miss time.

The question is Waynes’ debut exactly what Cincinnati needs to turn this unit around?

Trae Waynes

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 190 lbs

Age: 28

College: Michigan State

Hometown: Kenosha, WI

Experience: Entering his seventh season

Cap Status

Waynes is entering the second year of his three-year $42 million that he signed last offseason, according to Spotrac. He will account for $15.8 million of the Bengals’ cap. He is set to become a free agent following the 2022 season. Cincinnati has a potential out before the 2022 season where the team could save $11 million in cap space.

Background

Waynes was originally a first round pick for the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 following a wonderful career at Michigan State. Over his five seasons in Minnesota he started 53 games, 236 tackles, a sack, seven interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The former Viking built a reputation as a reliable tackler that didn’t get burned. That made him the prime replacement for Dre Kirkpatrick when he left the team. Unfortunately, Waynes missed the entire 2020 season after he hurt his pectoral muscle.

Outlook for 2021 season

The Bengals are in pretty desperate need for any defensive help they can get after they struggled in 2021. You could see the improvement from a 2019 season where they were downright awful. However, injuries still limited how good the unit could actually be. Since Waynes didn’t get to play last season, he will be one of three new faces in the secondary that will look almost completely different from a season ago.

Waynes will be the veteran cornerback leading new faces like Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie along with Darius Phillips. He will be especially valuable now that William Jackson has moved on to the Washington Football Team via free agency as well.

2020 wasn’t a great year for Bengals’ cornerbacks. Injuries really hot the position hard, which forced players like LeShaun Sims into major playing time and got picked apart. Cincinnati needs Waynes and the rest of the corners to play well and stay healthy. Waynes may also be relied on to make sure this almost entirely new group gets on the same page quickly after never playing together.

There is no sugar coating the fact that Waynes isn’t a ball hawking defender that is going to create a ton of turnovers. However, the Bengals need a guy who can reliably play man coverage and make tackles on the edge without giving up game-altering plays. Waynes is that guy, and this secondary would be better for having him around.

Roster Odds

100%. Waynes is the Bengals’ next No. 1 cornerback. It’s a role he’s never quite had before, but he’s amongst the highest-paid cornerbacks in the game in terms of average annual salary and there’s no one else on the roster who can adequately fill the role. Whether or not he’ll be around next season remains to be seen, but 2021 is Waynes’ year to truly prove himself.