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Bengals didn't play hand with Whitworth well at all

CINCINNATI (WKRC) – A million dollars and some front office hubris may cost the Bengals a chance at making a playoff run in 2017 before the season even begins.

The Bengals have usually done a very good job of determining the value of their free agents, but they may have made a huge blunder this year in undervaluing veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth.

While the Bengals don’t attack free agency the way many fans would like they’ve usually had a solid plan and worked that plan well to make every dollar count, but this year they tried a low-ball approach with Whitworth and it cost them a key piece when Whitworth signed with the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday.

It was OK last season when the Bengals allowed wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to walk when they were vastly overpaid by other teams. Brandon LaFell and draft pick Tyler Boyd turned out to be suitable replacements for a fraction of the cost.

It allowed the team to re-sign cornerback Adam Jones, and that turned out to be the right move, because it was a position the Bengals desperately needed to retain his services.

They couldn’t afford to re-sign both safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka so they made offers to both with the idea that the first one to take it would be re-signed and the other would leave. The younger Iloka was re-signed, and while Nelson had a fine season with the Oakland Raiders the team wasn’t going to afford keep them both.

They let veteran right tackle Andre Smith walk because they thought they had a suitable replacement in 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi.

Those were all prudent moves at the time they were made even though Ogbuehi didn’t pan out.

Heading into free agency this offseason it appeared quite obvious that the Bengals were going to let guard Kevin Zeitler leave and try to re-sign cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and Whitworth.

The belief was Zeitler’s price tag was far too high for the position he plays and that belief was right. Zeitler was signed by the Cleveland Browns to the richest contract in NFL history ever paid to a guard.

Whether you like it or not, the Bengals don’t value that position as highly as they do other positions.

They figure they can get a comparable player in the draft and develop him.

Zeitler was a first-round pick in 2012 and started from the first game of his rookie season and the team’s other starting guard, Clint Boling, was a fourth-round pick in 2011 and has started since his second season.

They will likely draft a guard in the early rounds this season to go along with Boling, T.J. Johnson, who started the regular-season finale in place of Boling when he was injured, and 2016 fifth-round pick Christian Westerman. They should be fine at the position.

It would have been nice to have Zeitler back, but not at the price he was eventually paid.

A chunk of the money saved went to Kirkpatrick, who was overpaid, but he plays a position that is extremely valued and where the alternatives as of right now come with question marks. Jones’ status is in limbo after his offseason arrest. 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to make enough consistent progress to get on the field much or make an impact. 2016 first-round pick William Jackson III missed all of his first season due to an injury.

Another chunk of the money saved by not re-signing Zeitler should have gone to Whitworth though.

He plays a position that is valued across the league, and it’s not like the Bengals have great alternatives. Ogbuehi flopped in his lone start at left tackle and there is no other option other than him right now. ProFootballFocus.com took an early look at who would be the current offensive line starters with their ratings and it isn't pretty (Whitworth was rated at 91.1 and Zeitler at 87.3).

The Bengals apparently thought they didn’t have to make a much more of an offer to retain Whitworth’s services than what they paid him last season (which was $9 million) and were so confident that he was going to re-sign with the them that word at the NFL Scouting Combine was they were telling teams they shouldn't even both talking to him.

Whitworth warned the Bengals publicly during a radio interview that they had better step their offer up or he was going to test the free agent market.

According to the ProFootballFocus.com not only was Whitworth the highest-rated offensive tackle on the market, but he was its highest-rated player overall regardless of position.

The Bengals though didn’t up their offer as he was reportedly offered only a one-year deal worth $10 million. That’s barely more than he made last season. so he hit the open market and found a willing taker in the Rams.

On the surface the $36 million appears to be too much to spend for a 35-year-old offensive lineman, but he may never even see the third year of that contract, and the real dollar figure to note is that $15 million is guaranteed. His base salary increases in each of the last two years of the deal and the Rams may never be on the hook for that money.

That’s why anyone arguing that the Bengals were right to walk away at the $36 million price tag are simply wrong, because it will likely never come close to reaching that. If it does then it will mean Whitworth is still playing at a high enough level to warrant it.

NFL contracts are often structured in terms of length in order to spread the signing money out as it pertains to the salary cap. Unlike other sports NFL contracts are not guaranteed other than signing bonus money. A team can cut a player at any time during the length of their contract and not have to pay the rest of the money owed.

They could have afforded to offer two years, $25 million with half of that guaranteed and I believe he would have stayed.

It would have cost them basically $1 million a year more than they offered, and it would have been worth it.

Instead they allowed him to leave, which now leaves a huge void at a key position that the team supposedly valued.

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