After an injury-plagued season that ended midway through, Eli Apple will receive another chance. The Bengals are signing the veteran cornerback to a one-year contract, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.
The Panthers released Apple last October, doing so after he experienced consistent hamstring trouble. Despite now being on team No. 4, the former top-10 pick is still just 25. And he is returning to Ohio, where he once starred as a college prospect.
Apple’s Ohio State work prompted the Giants to use their No. 9 overall pick on him in 2016. However, Apple has not been able to justify the pre-draft hype as a pro. Having since bounced to the Saints and Panthers, Apple will join Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie as offseason Bengals cornerback acquisitions.
Last year, Apple reached a one-year, $6MM agreement to join the Raiders. That deal fell through amid the NFL’s first COVID-19-affected offseason. Apple ended up signing with the Panthers for half that amount, but he only played 28 defensive snaps with Carolina. A hamstring injury sent Apple to IR, and after he aggravated the injury upon return, the Panthers cut bait. Apple sat out the final two months of last season.
While Apple is coming off essentially a medical redshirt campaign, the ex-Buckeye star has made 48 NFL starts — including 25 for a Saints team that won the NFC South in each of his two seasons in New Orleans. The Saints traded fourth- and seventh-round picks for Apple in 2018 and used him as a full-time player.
Apple will now join a Bengals team that has struggled extensively on defense over the past two seasons. Cincinnati lost William Jackson in free agency but has now acquired three veteran corners this offseason. They will join Trae Waynes, who missed all of last season due to injury, in an effort to upgrade the rebuilding team’s secondary.