Though not a surprising move, it was still a significant moment when the Cincinnati Bengals announced they would be releasing veteran defensive tackle Geno Atkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, whom they drafted in the fourth round in 2010.
Plagued by injuries last season that limited him to just eight games, Atkins had already been playing in a reduced role as Zac Taylor’s defensive unit continued to evolve, seeing just 119 total defensive snaps over the course of the entire year. Atkins was due $9.5 million for 2021, and it was clear that they did not view him in that role.
Still, when asked about the former Bengal recently, Bengals’ director of player personnel Duke Tobin left the door open, allowing for the possibility that the two sides could find a way to come back together, perhaps depending upon how the draft unfolds.
“Geno is one of the greatest players in franchise history and one of the best defensive tackles of the last decade,” he said on a podcast for the team’s website, saying that he gave everything he had a year ago. “We’ll see if there are things that can be worked out. If it is, great. If not, I think we’ve got other guys that can fill the role.”
Still, it’s hard to see a resigning in the cards unless it somehow comes at a bargain rate. The Bengals made a big free agent signing last year, spending $53 million over the life of a four-year deal to sign D.J. Reader to plug up the middle.
This offseason, they also signed Larry Ogunjobi from the Cleveland Browns, and brought back Mike Daniels. The team also retained both Josh Tupou, who opted out last season, and Renell Wren, who missed the season with a quadriceps injury.
Over the course of his 11-year career, Atkins recorded 384 tackles for the Bengals, including 100 for loss, with 75.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and six batted passes. He also registered 172 quarterback hits, and has registered at least nine sacks in a season five times.
In fact, he was such an impactful player that he helped to change the scouting report for shorter, stout defensive tackles. Atkins was a fourth-round draft pick, and if he didn’t pave the way with his stellar performance as an ‘undersized’ guy, others like Aaron Donald may not have been viewed as first-rounders, and would have had to prove themselves the hard way.
There’s been no movement that I’m aware of for Atkins on the free agent market since his release. At 33 years old, and coming off of an injury-plagued year, he may have a hard time finding more than a modest one-year deal, and will probably have to wait until after the draft — which I’m sure he’s fine with. He’ll sign in training camp.