Although the 2021 season went much differently than the 2020 NFL season for the Cincinnati Bengals, as we approach the dawn of free agency, the same question lingers. What are they going to do about the offensive line?
There are the pessimists who think that nothing will ever change, and then there is the “all-in crowd” who think they’ll break the bank and roll out five new starters next season. The truth is somewhere in between. (But closer to the former.)
Let’s take a look at what the Bengals offensive line could look like in 2022.
Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack was recently asked about a potential position change for left tackle Jonah Williams, and he was open to the idea. However, it is much more likely that this would mean moving to the right side rather than the inside. After all, tackles are more expensive and generally drafted higher, so why underutilize a good one? Of course, for that to happen, they would have had to acquire another left tackle to take his place, but who?
There has been talk about a trade for Mekhi Becton or Laremy Tunsil. The Jets are unlikely to be interested in trading Becton, plus he has injury concerns, so that one isn’t going to fly. Tunsil is much more interesting.
He’s due over $36 million in base salary over the next two seasons and to get him the Bengals would likely have to part with their 1st Round pick this season. He’s a great player who plays a valuable position where the Bengals have a desperate need, but if they could find a high-level free agent to spend that money on and retain the pick, they could use their selection to get better somewhere else.
That brings us to free agents. Terron Armstead and Trent Brown are a couple of names that have been thrown out, but with both recovering from injury and commanding high salaries, there is a lot of risk involved in signing either of them. Fans would be ecstatic when pen was put to paper, but a setback in the new Bengal’s recovery could lead us right back to where we started and to whom we started at tackle in the Super Bowl: Isaiah Prince.
Orlando Brown and Cam Robinson have cleaner injury sheets, but of course, each has been franchised by his respective team, so no dice.
What a pickle.
A more frugal option would be Morgan Moses. Although he is younger and has been relatively healthy throughout his career. Moses, however, may not provide the marked improvement fans are looking for at the position.
That leads us to the draft. It is risky to plan on drafting a starting tackle when you are making your selection first selection so deep into the 1st Round. If they think they can find their long term solution in the draft, they will likely look to bring in an experienced tackle as a stop gap, like they did with Riley Reiff last season. Maybe Duane Brown.
Dream 2022 Starters: Jonah Williams and Terron Armstead - both with a clean bill of health
Likely 2022 Starters: Jonah Williams and Duane Brown or someone of his ilk, with a Day 2 Draft Pick developing behind him
With the risk involved in signing a big time free agent at offensive tackle, investing at center may be a better course of action. Ryan Jensen would provide veteran leadership and have a big time impact on the Bengals’ offense. He will not be cheap, but he will cost much less than a top tackle.
Of course, everyone wants Jensen. Every time I look at Twitter, a different SB Nation site has an article about how their team should target Jensen. I swear there isn’t just one person ghost-writing all of those articles and changing the team info. Jensen is a hot commodity. If they lose out on Jensen, there are other options.
Ben Jones who did a great job against Aaron Donald in Tennessee’s win over the Rams last season and Bradley Bozeman has already had success in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals still have Trey Hopkins under contract for one more season, but there have been talks of Hopkins potentially being cut to save money, which would make a lot of sense if they went in big on a free agent center.
Dream 2022 Starter: Ryan Jensen
Likely 2022 Starter: Bradley Bozeman
There has been a lot of talk about signing a pair of guards, from this list: Laken Tomlinson, Austin Corbett, James Daniels, and Connor Williams. Signing one would be great. Signing two isn’t going to happen.
Zac Taylor and Duke Tobin both talked at the combine about how difficult it is for offensive linemen to transition from college to the NFL. They are not going to cut bait on 2021 2nd Round pick Jackson Carman after only one season. He may not be the Day 1 starter, but there will be a path for him to earn a starting job in 2022.
Hopefully they sign one of the above listed guards, but on the opposite side, Carmen will compete with someone. That someone could be Hopkins if the team decides to sign another center but keep him on the roster. Alternatively, the team could bring back Quinton Spain on another one-year deal, or Hakeem Adeniji could continue to compete with Carman for the job. Alexa, remind me to turn off comments for this post.
Dream 2022 Starters: One of the four listed in the first paragraph of this article and Jackson Carman turning a corner and looking like a steal of a 2nd Round pick
Likely 2022 Starters: One of the four listed in the first paragraph of this article and Quinton Spain with Jackson Carman pushing him to take the job
On the topic of development, young linemen like Adeniji, Isaiah Prince, D’Ante Smith, and Trey Hill will largely make up the team’s depth in 2022. The Bengals added a second assistant offensive line coach to their staff. They need to be able to develop some of these picks into quality depth. Although Prince and Adeniji caused us a lot of stress last season, they now have valuable starting experience on the game’s biggest stage.