A busy legal tampering Monday was followed by a sluggish Tuesday for the Cincinnati Bengals. As fans wait with bated breath for another offensive linemen to be signed, we’ve officially reached the end of free agency’s first wave, which coincides with the beginning of the 2022 NFL league year.
The Bengals’ roster has changed, but not so much as the first week of free agency hits the halfway mark. Here are the winners and losers from the first wave of signings and departures.
Joe Burrow: Clean pockets are all Burrow needs to take the next step in his career. He didn’t have many of those last year and he still shoved his way into the MVP conversation by season’s end.
More clean pockets are what he should get with Ted Karras and Alex Cappa.
While neither free agent acquisition was the best possible player available at their respective positions, the sum of their parts equal a better interior offensive line as a whole. That was the Bengals’ primary plan entering the offseason, and they executed it supremely.
Drew Sample: No one stands in front of Sample at the moment. C.J. Uzomah’s exodus to the New York Jets leaves the fourth-year tight end atop the depth chart at that spot.
Considering the Bengals were planning on re-signing Uzomah, a free agent is expected to be added and Sample’s role will continue as the No. 2. But for now, Sample gets a W.
Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith: As it currently stands, the Bengals have holes at left guard and right tackle. It’s possible they fill both with incoming free agents, but it’s more likely they leave one open for some of their young players to compete for.
Enter Carman and Smith.
Due to his draft status, Carman will naturally get a chance to start somewhere before the team completely gives up on him. He played noticeably better at left guard compared to right guard as a rookie, which makes sense since he played on that side of the line in college. Smith nearly won a starting job at guard last year and has the length to be a tackle, so don’t count him out either.
Trey Hopkins: It’s not official just yet, but the Karras signing doesn’t bode well for Hopkins sticking around in Cincinnati. Karras can play left guard or center, and the contract he agreed to is nearly identical to the one Hopkins signed in 2019 to be the team’s center going forward.
We’ll see if Karras taking Hopkins’ job is officially the case later today. If so, the best case for the long-time Bengal is that he accepts a pay-cut to remain on the roster. A smaller salary is also what he might find on the open market at this point.
Lou Anarumo: Don’t get it twisted, re-signing B.J. Hill is a great move for the Bengals’ defense, but the defensive line room took a hit when Larry Ogunjobi left for the Chicago Bears. Having both players rotate at 3-technique was a blessing for Anarumo’s scheme. Now he has just one.
With so much money tied up at that position group, the NFL Draft is likely the place where Anarumo finds a backup for Hill. Hopefully that pick provides as much explosive pass-rushing power as Ogunjobi does.
The locker room: This might as well include the Bengals’ faithful because losing Uzomah stings, badly. The tight end was never the most productive or athletic on the field, but he was an undeniable catalyst for his fellow players and the fans in general. No one could’ve asked for a more charming and charismatic voice of the team.
That’s a hole on the roster that’s not so easily filled, no matter what he does or doesn’t do in-between the white lines.
How the Bengals replace Uzomah’s value in this respect is a huge question mark, but know this: A team with an established culture can survive friendly faces leaving. Their work continues through other players who learned from them. The Bengals will survive, but it is a somber feeling at the moment.