The Cincinnati Bengals announced yesterday that they were releasing veteran running back Giovani Bernard, perhaps best known for, other than his mustache, being the only running back drafted ahead of former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro runner Le’Veon Bell in the second round in 2013.
Bernard has, up to this point, spent the entirety of his career with the Bengals, all eight seasons. He signed two extensions in that time. He initially signed a three-year, $15.5 million extension in 2016, and then a second, two-year extension in 2019, worth $10.3 million. The 2020 season was the first extension year. He would have been due $4.1 million this season, the cap space they save prior to roster displacement.
Given that the Bengals have comfortably more than $20 million in cap space, some have called into question why they have decided to cut Bernard, a veteran and well-respected player, if it wasn’t as a cap casualty. Cincinnati is historically and accurately known to be a frugal team, and this move doesn’t help that image.
But it does have Joe Mixon as their starting RB, though injuries limited him to just six games in 2020. Earlier this offseason, it also released Geno Atkins, a multiple-time first-team All-Pro defensive tackle. It’s possible that they could consider bringing him back at a lower rate.
According to the team’s own website, it is “believed” that they tried to renegotiate Bernard’s contract, which, given the low amounts involved, may have simply involved Bernard being asked to accept a pay cut from the $4.1 million in total he would be owed.
Rather than retain Bernard, who rushed for 416 yards on 124 carries last season with 355 receiving yards and six total touchdowns, the Bengals opted instead to re-sign Samaje Perine, whom they first acquired in 2019 and then moved to their practice squad after a month. Perine was brought back this past season after being claimed off waivers, and he rushed for 301 yards on just 63 attempts with three touchdowns playing behind Bernard.
Trayveon Williams is going into his third year after seeing his first action last season. Though he had just 25 rushing attempts, he picked up 157 yards, with a long of 55. He added five receptions on five targets for 60 yards.
There is always the possibility that they add another running back to replace Bernard through the draft. That is something that they certainly haven’t been afraid to do. But their real priority needs to be fixing the offensive line. To that end, they did commit money to tackle Riley Reiff this offseason.