The Cincinnati Bengals have just one remaining priority from their initial free agency outlook. One very large priority. After a few weeks on the open market, right tackle Andre Smith is still without a new contract.
Although a deal hasn’t been agreed to just yet, the Bengals still appear to be the favorites to land Smith. However, that is presuming that Smith remains their top target.
He, along with Jake Long and Sebastian Vollmer, was one of the top three offensive tackles available when free agency began. Vollmer and Long signed on with the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots respectively, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Smith is now the top tackle left.
For the second off-season in a row, veteran tackle Eric Winston was released from his contract. Despite living up to his reputation with the Kansas City Chiefs last year on a losing team, new Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid decided that Winston wasn’t in his long-term plans, just like Gary Kubiak had with his Houston Texans a season previous.
The Texans released Winston for financial reasons, instead choosing to retain running back Arian Foster. His release from Kansas City is for less clear reasons, but there is no evidence to point to him as a locker-room malcontent.
Although Winston is three years older than Smith, that experience should work in his favor rather than against him. Winston has started for six seasons while playing to a very high level. In contrast, Smith just finished the fourth year of his rookie contract when he battled health issues on more than one occasion and only played to his potential for one season.
Winston brings more guarantees in terms of his on-field production, but more importantly, he doesn’t carry the same financial demands.
Smith entered this off-season anticipating offers of over $9 million per year. Even though the tackle market so far sets his price closer to $7 million per season, that still overshadows the deal Winston signed for four years and $22 million last off-season. Winston’s leverage has taken a shot since then with his release as well as the fact that he has another season of tread on his tires.
Signing Winston for less than $5 million per season would be a much more prudent move than investing $7 million or more per season in Smith. Not only is Winston on the same level as Smith, but he fits the style of tackle the Bengals are interested in. For years he was a key cog on the Texans’ offensive line, the most important level of their run-first overall approach. Under Jay Gruden, the Bengals have a commitment to running the ball and they require their right tackle to be a mauler of sorts.
The one obvious knock on Winston, his age, is irrelevant because he won’t turn 30 before the beginning of this coming season. He will comfortably be able to complete a three or four year contract.