The Cincinnati Bengals had big plans for their offensive line when they doubled down on the tackle position in the 2015 NFL Draft, selecting Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round and then dipping back into that pool with Jake Fisher in the second round. Now two years into their careers, neither has cemented themselves as a starter.
And the team may choose to consider reuniting with one of their former starters, if nothing else then simply for some added insurance in case things don’t go their way. They do, after all, have not one but two starters along the offensive line slated to become unrestricted free agents in a bit over a week.
Veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth expressed confidence in working out something with the team, but he also was clear in his desire to listen to outside offers in order to fully explore the opportunity that is presented him with the chance to hit free agency.
Perhaps of even more concern is the possibility of losing former first-round guard Kevin Zeitler, who has turned into a very good player. He is expected to fetch a very nice deal for himself in the range of at least $8 million and up to $10 million annually, and the Bengals have had a history of…let’s say, being cheap.
For about a half-decade or so, the Bengals had former first-round draft pick Andre Smith hold down the right tackle position. While he had some struggles in the early portions of his career to cement himself as a starter, he grew over time into a quality player, even if injuries have become an issue.
Smith signed a one-year contract with the Vikings last offseason worth $3.5 million, but he played in only four games before suffering an injury that landed him on injured reserve. He also missed two games in the 2015 season with the Bengals, and seven the year prior.
But given the level of play that they have gotten from Ogbuehi and Fisher, both of whom got a crack at starting and had to be rotated in and out, it may well prove to be a reasonable option for them to court Smith back.
Fisher has potential flexibility to move to guard should the team end up losing Zeitler in free agency. That should be a pretty early domino to fall, so if it does happen, they should be able to move on pretty quickly to their Plan B.
Cincinnati does have a history of reuniting with former players, and nowhere has that been more evident than along the defensive line, as they have seen Michael Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, and Pat Sims sign elsewhere in recent years only to wind up back with the team.
There are other examples, and Smith could potentially be the latest. No matter what they may have invested in their two young tackles, they need to protect themselves against the possibility that they will not pan out as they had hoped. Smith could be a bit of a security blanket.