The Cincinnati Bengals were a good enough team in 2021 to reach the Super Bowl, nearly pulling out a victory, in fact. The seemingly universal consensus is that their weakest link is their offensive line, which allowed quarterback Joe Burrow to be sacked 51 times during the regular season, and another 19 times during their four-game postseason run.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN believes the Bengals are a team to watch regarding the opening trade market for Dallas Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins, with the defending NFC East champions looking to dump some substantial salaries. They were able to move wide receiver Amari Cooper and his $20 million base salary, and are now turning to Collins as the next move to make.
Even after the Cooper trade (in principle; it doesn’t become official until the start of the new league year), the Cowboys are still ‘only’ a bit under $20 million below the salary cap, even after restructuring quarterback Dak Prescott’s contract.
Collins represents the fifth-largest cap hit on the Cowboys’ roster at the moment at $15,250,000, of which only $10 million can be moved in the form of his base salary, the rest being prorated portions of prior pay. He is one of seven players in Dallas with a 2022 cap hit greater than $10 million.
Because he is signed through the 2024 season, it wouldn’t benefit them much from a cap perspective to trade or release him unless they designate it as a post-June 1 move. But a trading team would only inherit his base salaries, including the $10 million for the 2022 season (his base salaries for 2023 and 2024 are also for $10 million).
As for the Bengals, they played through the 2021 season with Riley Reiff as their primary right tackle, starting 12 of 12 games and logging 711 snaps, but he finished the year on the Reserve/Injured List with an ankle injury, which included him missing the entire postseason. Isaiah Prince started the rest of the way.
Reiff is an unrestricted free agent, but Collins would certainly be an upgrade over the 34-year-old, and $10 million is not a wild salary to pay for a starting-caliber right tackle in this day and age. He is still under 29, and they would also have him under contract for the next three seasons.
Given how high a priority it is likely to be for the Bengals to upgrade their offensive line, there is certainly reason to believe that they could be in the trade market for Collins, which isn’t likely to be robust, and could result in them getting him pretty cheap.
The added benefit is that they will not inherit any prorated money, so they will effectively receive a contract that is three option years at $10 million each. They could release him with no cap penalty after the 2022 or 2023 seasons and save $10 million against the cap. They have more than $34 million in cap space and could clear more than $10 million if they opt to release cornerback Trae Waynes.