- The torn ACL Giovani Bernard suffered in November could help spur the Bengals to select a running back as early as Round 1 of the draft, writes Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. Neither Bernard nor Jeremy Hill reached the 4.0 yards-per-carry mark last year, though the former posted strong pass-catching numbers and the latter scored nine touchdowns. Hill is set to enter the last year of his contract in 2017, while Rex Burkhead is on track to hit free agency next month after putting up a lofty 4.6 YPC on 74 tries in 2016. Head coach Marvin Lewis spoke on both Hill and Burkhead on Friday, telling Geoff Hobson of the team’s website: “We have to coach [Hill] better. We bet on him. We have no other choice. We bet on Jeremy to continue to progress and move forward. Our job is to try and re-sign Rex. That doesn’t affect Jeremy.”
With Cincinnati’s offensive line facing offseason uncertainty, a reunion with former Bengal/current Viking right tackle Andre Smith could make sense for both parties, as Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer opines (Twitter links). Smith, whom the Bengals made the sixth overall pick in 2009, played seven seasons in the Queen City before inking a one-year deal with Minnesota last year. If he did rejoin Cincinnati, Smith would slot back in at right tackle, where 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi recently struggled. One problem with such a scenario, per Dehner, would be forcing 2015 second-round pick Jake Fisher — who played well at right tackle last year — to guard, a position he hasn’t played much of in the NFL.
Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:
- Although Kyle Juszczyk would view a return to the Ravens as “phenomenal,” the veteran fullback would consider other any offers that might be proposed this spring, he tells SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). The 25-year-old Juszczyk led all NFL fullbacks in both offensive snaps (465) and receptions (37) in 2016, although the lack of fullback usage in the league figures to drive down his market. In terms of positional spending, the Chiefs’ Anthony Sherman currently leads all fullbacks with a $2.1MM annual salary. Juszczyk, a former fourth-round pick out of Harvard, will join a free agent fullback class that includes Patrick DiMarco (Falcons), Marcel Reece (Seahawks), and Jerome Felton (Bills).
- Former Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner has joined the University of Michigan as an offensive analyst, tweets Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com. Turner’s father, Norv, resigned as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator midway through last season, and while Scott was retained to finish out the campaign, he was fired by the Vikings last month. Although Turner had coached in the NFL since 2011, he didn’t have many options around the league if he wanted to continue leading quarterback rooms — the only QB coaching job still available is in Kansas City, per Dan Hatman of The Scouting Academy (Twitter link).
- Cornerback Bene Benwikere‘s one-year deal with the Bengals is worth $690K, the minimum for a player with three years experience, according to Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Still only 25 years old, Benwikere took visits with four other clubs (including the Jets) before signing with Cincinnati. He’ll compete for a spot in the Bengals’ secondary that includes Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III, Josh Shaw, and pending free agent Dre Kirkpatrick.
The Bengals and left tackle Andrew Whitworth are in discussions regarding a new deal, the pending free agent told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday. With the market set to open March 9, the Bengals have made Whitworth their No. 1 priority, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner Jr., who expects the two to reach an agreement (Twitter links).
Although the 35-year-old Whitworth spent some time at guard last season, the Bengals will let him man his typical position as a blindside bookend if he’s with the club in 2017, per Dehner. Whitworth has been a rock at left tackle in Cincinnati, which selected the ex-LSU standout in the second round of the 2006 draft, having logged 164 starts out of 168 appearances and earned three Pro Bowls nods. The 6-foot-7, 325-pounder is now fresh off his third straight 16-start season, one in which he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ second-best tackle among 78 qualifiers.
It’s unclear how much the Bengals would have to pay Whitworth to keep him off the market, but it’s worth noting he played 2016 on a $9MM deal. Given the ever-increasing salary cap, a raise on a short-term pact seems like a strong possibility. Should Whitworth eschew free agency, it would further weaken an already uninspiring class of unsigned tackles. Whitworth is easily the premier option in a group that also includes Riley Reiff, Ryan Clady, Matt Kalil, Luke Joeckel and teammate Eric Winston, among others.
Along with Whitworth and Winston, the Bengals – who have $43MM-plus in cap space – are facing key decisions on soon-to-be free agents like guard Kevin Zeitler, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and wide receiver Brandon LaFell. Zeitler might be the most appealing player of the bunch, but he could be on his way out of Cincinnati.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Somewhat overlooked in what promises to be an eventful offseason when it comes to available quarterbacks, A.J. McCarron may be firmly in the mix here. The Bengals are expected to gauge the market for a potential trade of their backup quarterback over the next month, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com notes.
- Veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston says he’s “hopeful” about a return to the Bengals, and noted a new deal “looks promising,” per SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Thought to be buried on Cincinnati’s depth chart, Winston ended up rotating right tackle snaps with former first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, and ultimately played on roughly a quarter of the Bengals’ offensive snaps. Winston, 33, signed a minimum salary benefit contract with Cincinnati in 2016, and would likely be forced to accept a similar deal this year.
Try saying this five times fast: the Bengals have agreed to sign cornerback Bene Benwikere. The deal was first reported by Tom Pelissero of USA Today (on Twitter). It’s a one-year pact, agent Bardia Ghahremani tells ESPN.com’s Katherine Terrell (on Twitter).
Before signing with Cincinnati, the corner visited with four other teams, according to Pelissero. As previously reported, the Jets also showed interest in Benwikere and hosted him on a visit in early February.
Still only 25 (26 in September), Big Play Bene is hoping to put a trying 2016 in the rear view mirror. Benwikere was released by Carolina early in the 2016 season after one particularly bad game against the Falcons. In that contest, Julio Jones hauled in 12 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown with the majority of the damage coming against the San Jose State product. After the game, Benwikere admitted that he was gassed and that apparently didn’t sit right with Carolina brass.
After Benwikere was cut, the Dolphins claimed him on waivers, beating out the Titans and Redskins thanks to their higher priority. After finishing the regular season on Miami’s taxi squad, he joined the Packers’ p-squad during the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Despite having over $43MM in cap space, the Bengals are unlikely to make any significant splashes in free agency, per Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. Odds are greater that Cincinnati will focus on its own soon-to-be free agents – including left tackle Andrew Whitworth, guard Kevin Zeitler, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and receiver Brandon LaFell – writes Terrell, who notes that the club is also expecting to pick up plenty of help via the draft. On top of the picks the Bengals already have, the league could award them three or four compensatory selections this year as a result of the losses they incurred in free agency last offseason.
- Kevin Zeitler and the Bengals hadn’t initiated contract negotiations as of a month ago, and Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer continues to believe the veteran guard will leave this spring via the free agent market. If the Bengals are faced with a choice between Zeitler and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the club will likely side with Whitworth, per Dehner, especially given that Zeitler could “break the bank” as the No. 1 interior lineman available. Finding a solution along the offensive line was among the list of Cincinnati’s key offseason needs that I outlined earlier this month.
Today’s minor moves:
- The Browns have re-signed exclusive rights free agent wide receiver Rannell Hall, as Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal reports. Cleveland originally signed the 24-year-old Hall off Tampa Bay’s practice squad near the end of the 2015 campaign, but a broken fibula caused him to miss the entirety of the 2016 season. Hall, who’s appeared in just a single NFL contest, will make league minimum salary as he attempts his comeback.
- The Bears have signed tight end Justin Perillo, a source tells Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Perillo, 26, finished the year on the Packers’ practice squad injured reserve after spending eight games on the active roster. All told, Perillo has managed 15 receptions and one touchdown during his three-year career.
- Linebacker Trevor Roach has retired from the NFL, the Bengals announced today. Roach, 25 next month, originally signed with Cincinnati as an undrafted in 2015, and subsequently bounced between the practice squad and active roster for the next two years. The Nebraska alum appeared in an NFL game for the first time in 2016, ultimately playing in four contests.
- The Lions announced that they’ve signed safety Rolan Milligan, who spent last offseason with the Cowboys. A 2016 undrafted free agent out of Toledo, Milligan worked out for the Bears, Falcons, and Giants during the season but never landed a contract.
- Bengals cornerback Adam Jones is getting more time to work on alcohol and anger issues before anything happens with his criminal case, The Associated Press writes. Now, court records show the date for possible grand jury action has been delayed from Friday until March 23. Jones was arrested for three misdemeanors and a felony last month after he assaulted a man, kicked police officers, and spit on a nurse in jail. The Bengals, understandably, are unsure about whether they want him back.