When the Cincinnati Bengals signed former Carolina Panthers free agent guard Travelle Wharton to a three year deal worth $10 million last year, they expected him to become an important cog in the team’s offensive line as their starting left guard. However, Wharton was injured prior to the season even beginning and never played a meaningful snap for his new franchise. Not only did the Bengals not miss what they never had in Wharton, they were able to find a younger, cheaper replacement in Clint Boling. Boling played well enough in his first season as a full-time starter to warrant his starting spot next season.
Because of the structure of his contract, Wharton received most of his money during his first season. Over the next two seasons, he is owed just $2.6 million per year. At 31 years of age, Wharton is also at the ideal age for any team looking for a starting guard because he has the experience as a starter without accumulating too much of a beating to not be physically functional. At his price, the Bengals have a lot of flexibility. They could conceivably keep him as a primary backup, but they would also likely be able to find a trade partner on the open market if they made him available.
The Bengals only have three guards listed on their depth chart, but Kyle Cook, Trevor Robinson or Anthony Collins could all play the position in a pinch. Furthermore, the Bengals will have ample opportunities to acquire a cheaper replacement in the off-season whether that be through the draft or in free agency. While the Bengals can afford to pay Wharton $2.6 million as a backup, it’s not an ideal scenario. In spite of the franchise having so much free cap space, the amount of business that needs to be done means that they don’t really have that much financial flexibility. Saving money whenever they can is something the team must always explore.
Presuming he is healthy, Wharton could reap compensation as high as a mid-to-late fourth round pick or an early fifth round pick. That may not seem like a lot, but for a backup guard it really would be. There are a few teams in the league who would be interested in greater guard depth or even a starter. Depending on which teams ultimately make a move, the Bengals could get great value for their failed free agent. Wharton doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. He is an all-around player even though he will never be a superstar. That kind of reliability is welcomed by every team in the league.
Balancing the value in a draft pick against a proven backup is difficult, but free agents such as Chad Rinehart, Ramon Foster, Geoff Schwartz and a few more could fill fit the same criteria as Wharton at a cheaper price.