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Laremy Tunsil trade ‘inevitable,’ should Bengals be interested?

This would be highly unusual business for Cincinnati.

NFL: Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL offseason in full swing, rumors are spreading like wildfire.

Free agency does not begin until the middle of March, and league rules also prevent any trades to commence before then as well, but clubs have been known to inquire about players and agree to trades in principle under the table before then.

The Houston Texans will have with ample eyes on them in the coming months as they could be offloading a few of their best players to kickstart a potential rebuild. No one seems to know what’s going to happen with quarterback Deshaun Watson, but he’s not the only one who appears to be on the way out.

Left tackle Laremy Tunsil’s name is also being floated as a possible trade candidate. During a recent episode of ESPN Houston’s The Bench podcast, Spotrac’s Mike Ginnitti claimed trades involving Tunsil, Watson, and Brandin Cooks are to be expected:

“The Tunsil [trade], you might be able to wait until after the draft. If you’re trading him to a team like Cincinnati or Baltimore that’s been rumored, they want to know that their free agent situation worked or didn’t work the way they wanted to. The Watson trade, the Tunsil trade, the Brandin Cooks trade, they’re kind of inevitable at this point.”

Ginnitti listed the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens as teams fit for Tunsil because it makes sense from a football perspective. But a Tunsil trade for the Bengals isn’t as clear cut as it sounds.

For starters, while the Bengals often conduct trades, they avoid trading draft picks for players straight up. If they’re acquiring a player, they’re giving up a player to complete the deal. Think Reggie Nelson for David Jones, B.J. Finney for Carlos Dunlap, and B.J. Hill for Billy Price. The picks involved in those deals never eclipsed that of a seventh-rounder as they were simply deal-sweeteners given to the Bengals.

This is speculation, but there isn’t a player that’s equal to Tunsil on the Bengals’ roster that the Bengals would be willing to give up to get Tunsil. While the Bengals would be getting a terrific 27-year-old left tackle in Tunsil, they’d be giving up at least one other high quality player at another position. The Bengals wouldn’t be getting a surplus of value in the deal, they’d at best be netting out to zero. That’s not how they conduct business.

The only other option for Cincinnati to land Tunsil would be giving up draft picks, and that’s also not something they do. You will likely never see them unload a first-round pick for a veteran player. The highest pick they’ve ever traded for a player was a fifth-rounder when they acquired Indianapolis Colts quarterback Paul Justin in 1998. Cincinnati is more likely to gain draft capital in deals instead of losing it. They’ve traded up late in past drafts, but nothing close to the first round.

Tunsil wouldn’t be cheap to acquire as the Texans would rightfully be looking for at least one first-round pick. That’s already a non-starter for the Bengals we know. The only precedent we have to work off is the Cordy Glenn trade, when the Bengals essentially swapped first-round picks with the Buffalo Bills in 2018. Cincinnati moved back nine picks in the first round to get left tackle Cordy Glenn, who lasted just two years and only played in 18 games.

If the Texans could agree to a similar deal then the Bengals might be interested, but it’s not just draft capital that’s a factor. Tunsil is scheduled to count for approximately $26 million against the cap in each of the next two years before becoming a free agent. If he’s traded to the Bengals, they would only take on his base salaries of $17.85 million for this season and $18.5 million in 2023.

Tunsil would make the Bengals’ offensive line better for the next two years, but trading for him would require a very specific deal that’s unlikely to happen, especially when Tunsil figures to have other suitors.