The Cincinnati Bengals defense underwent a fairly sizable transformation from what it was in 2019-20 seasons through key free agent pickups. The biggest free agent they brought in was defensive tackle DJ Reader.
Now with his contract set to expire at the end of the season after the veteran suffered a torn quad in Week 15, there has been a question as to whether he has played his last game as a Bengal.
If it is up to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Reader will be back in stripes. Anarumo told Charlie Goldsmith from the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“We’d love to have DJ Reader back. He’s such a big influence here.”
It has been a notable absence when Reader has been out of the lineup. He missed most of the 2020 season, and the Bengals were one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. When he returned in 2021, the defense had been transformed into one of the best, and his ability to take away inside running lanes was a huge part of that. He was one of the biggest reasons Cincinnati was able to defeat the Tennessee Titans in the 2021 Divisional Round by shutting down running back Derrick Henry and the rushing attack.
As far as whether Reader will be back, there is a decent chance. The Bengals may opt to let him test the market first, though. Cincinnati’s front office usually shies away from players heading into their 30s, and Reader will be turning 30 in July.
The chance for return comes because of the unfortunate situation Reader finds himself in. He has a torn quad late in the year. His health may be in doubt as far as his market is concerned, which opens up the opportunity for more of a one-year prove-it type deal to show he is still that same run-stopping piece in the middle.
And where better to do that than the team he has been a part of the last four years who knows him the best and how to put him in situations to make him look good?
We have to talk about the elephant in the room that Anarumo may also not be back next season. He was quite the popular head coaching candidate last offseason, and he could easily be on that circuit again, despite an off year from his defense.
It is still easy to imagine that the front office would still want Reader back, considering how good he has been, and also, they don’t really have a viable replacement for a nose tackle currently on the roster. On top of being a fantastic veteran presence for whatever the next generation of the interior defensive line may look like.