I have never been much of a big fan of Russell Bodine, generally having considered him the worst starter along the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line when they were at their best a couple of years ago. The veteran center was just an average player, but they didn’t need him to be much more.
After an unexpectedly active period of free agency, however, the Bengals shifted from intending to re-sign him to now having let him walk after he just signed a two-year contract with the Buffalo Bills, Marshall Newhouse also signing with Buffalo, who was also a former Bengals lineman a couple of years ago.
Now they have a hole in the middle of their offensive line a year after having let their two best players walk in free agency, those two being Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and Kevin Zeitler at right guard. Not only that, but Andre Smith, whom they brought back last season after spending his first several seasons as their starting right tackle, has again signed elsewhere.
While the Bengals made a move to trade for Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn, who should at least represent an upgrade over Cedric Ogbuehi, but is far from the Pro Bowl pedigree of his successor in Whitworth, the offensive line still has some big question marks.
The only player even listed as a center from their 53-man roster a year ago is Trey Hopkins, a player that they have liked for a long time but have struggled to see because he has dealt with injuries. He, however, took over the right guard spot from Zeitler a year ago.
Bodine is a player that the Bengals had every intention of keeping in-house as they headed into free agency, but the fifth-year center wanted to explore his market after they failed to offer him a contract extension a year ago, and are now paying for it.
The only other natural center on the team is T.J. Johnson, who was on injured reserve in 2017. A Bengals seventh-round pick from 2013, he has started just five of 45 career games. Four of those starts did come last season, but at right guard, and he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.
It’s unlikely that the team heads into the 2017 season banking on other Johnson or Hopkins being the starting center. They did bring in Bobby Hart in free agency, who and compete for a spot in the starting lineup either at guard or right tackle, but he is best used as a reserve.
Largely through inaction, the Bengals have really watched their offensive line deteriorate, even if they have attempted to plan for changes (see Ogbuehi) only to see them fail. Andy Dalton has struggled over the past couple of seasons, especially last year, in part because of this. Perhaps it’s time they start to seriously consider rebuilding the unit. Clint Boling is about the closest thing they have to stability.