The Cincinnati Bengals surprised this offseason when they went after left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. While the move prompted their current starter at the position, Jonah Williams, to request a trade, however, they may have had a more broadminded plan in the works.
Last year’s right tackle, La’el Collins, suffered a season-ending injury late last year. He recently told the team’s website that it was a triple tear of the ACL, MCL, and PCL. Site writer Geoff Hobson described the possibility of returning for the start of the 2023 regular season as “a Herculean task”, after having had surgery in mid-January.
“I’ll find a way. That’s what I’m all about. I have a don’t-be-denied mentality”, Collins said. “Right on schedule. Everything clicking the right way. No setbacks. No pain. I think I’m in a good place”, he added, saying that the best find a way to play through injury. Something he’s done a lot in his career, though he’s also missed a lot of time through injury. Yet even he admitted it would be quite difficult to get back o the field by September.
If he is not ready, the Bengals will obviously need somebody else to start at right tackle. Williams would likely be their preferred option. While they have expressed some resistance to trading him—particularly from the coaching staff, less so from the front office—however, the right offer could persuade them to move in that direction.
Cincinnati has invested a good bit in its offensive line recently, signing three starters last year—including center Ted Karras and guard Alex Cappa—while also using a second-round pick on Jackson Carman and a fourth-round pick on Cordell Volson. Volson beat out Carman to start at left guard last season.
Brown, however, was certainly the biggest move, the Bengals signing him to a four-year, $64 million contract. They could still stand to upgrade the left guard position next to him, though they should have Karras and Cappa along the interior. Who opens the season at right tackle remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it being Collins, even if he is able to return later in the year and reclaims his starting role.
Despite the investments made upfront, the Bengals still allowed a sack rate of 6.7 percent last season, right in the middle of the pack, and averaged 3.8 yards per rush, ranking 29th in the NFL. But transitions can often take more than a year to bear fruit.
The addition of Brown on the left side should make a big difference and represent a substantial upgrade from Williams, but there remains a glaring question at right tackle for now—and I would argue at left guard, as well.