The writing seemed to be on the wall for a while, but the Cincinnati Bengals recently made it official, releasing long-time veteran Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. A 2010 fourth-round draft pick, the 11-year veteran has been named to at least the Pro Bowl eight times, the only exceptions being his rookie season before he was a starter and the two years in which he missed at least two games.
Atkins’ 2020 season was plagued by injury, though there were also coaching decisions involved reducing his playing time. He was active for eight games, but started none of them, logging only 119 total defensive snaps. He played more than 800 snaps in 2019 under Zac Taylor, which was a career-high.
During the last season, the Bengals also began to phase out another long-time veteran, Carlos Dunlap, who was unhappy with his role, let it be known, and was eventually traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he showed that he was still capable of being effective.
A few weeks back, Dunlap gave an interview in which he reflected on the past season, and his long history with the Bengals. “I just know they’re committed to whatever their vision is”, he said in a recent radio interview, according to ESPN. “It’s clear that I was not one of those pieces. It seems like A.J. and Geno’s time is coming, too. I guess it’s a changing of the guard”.
Flash forward a couple of weeks, and about a week before the start of free agent, you had Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin essentially hedging on Atkins’ future, basically saying, “we’ll see as we go” as to whether or not he would be there in 2021.
In replacing him, Cincinnati continued to pilfer from within the division. After signing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Hilton to play in the slot, they signed Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who will start alongside D.J. Reader, one of their big free agent signings last year who missed most of the season due to injury. And Ogunjobi considers Atkins a mentor.
“He’s helped me tremendously in my career”, the new Bengal told reporters over the weekend in his first interview with the local media since signing. “I have nothing but respect for Geno. Thank you, Geno. For real, for real. I appreciate you, dog”.
The Bengals saved over $9 million by releasing Atkins, and they reportedly added Ogunjobi to a one-year deal worth just a bit over $6 million, so it is a bit of a budget move, but they also get younger at the position—assuming that he actually sticks around beyond this season.