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Free Agency Update: Old Standbys Departed, But Bengals Retooled Secondary, Bolstered Offensive Line

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The Cincinnati Bengals entered free agency with the fifth-most salary cap space in the league, and they were not shy about spending it to bolster a defense with plenty of room for improvement.

Cincinnati’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, with the unit finishing 29th against the run and 19th versus the pass. The Bengals also recorded just eleven interceptions, highlighting a need to address the secondary. They did just that.

Not only did they pluck slot corner Mike Hilton away from the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Bengals also added veteran cornerback Eli Apple on Tuesday. The former Buckeye played just two games in 2020 due to injury, but is a proven commodity with three career interceptions with 33 pass breakups.

Cincinnati made a third addition in the secondary, signing former Cowboys defensive back Chidobe Awuzie. A former second round pick, Awuzie has four career picks and 37 pass breakups of his own.

In adding the trio of newcomers to a secondary that already includes safety Jessie Bates III and cornerback Trae Waynes, Cincinnati’s pass defense appears primed for a significant improvement in 2021.

They managed to beef up the defensive front as well, signing pass rusher Trey Hendrickson away from New Orleans on a four-year, $60 million contract. Hendrickson broke out last season, tallying 13.5 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss with the Saints. Cincinnati recorded just 17 sacks a season ago, the fewest in football.

To address their deficiencies defending the run, the Bengals snagged another difference maker from a division rival, signing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. A third round selection of the Browns in 2017, Ogunjobi recorded 14.5 sacks and 29 tackles-for-loss over four years in Cleveland. He was durable as well, starting 46 of a possible 48 games since 2018.

Keeping with their youth movement, Cincinnati cut long-time defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He had been named First-Team All-Pro twice and selected to eight Pro Bowls, including six consecutive selections from 2014 to 2019. His 75.5 sacks and 100 tackles-for-loss are both the second-most in franchise history. Atkins had a $14.8 million cap hit for 2021.

Cincinnati said goodbye to a franchise icon on the offensive side as well, as wide receiver A.J. Green signed  a one-year, $6 million deal with Arizona. He exits the Queen City second in franchise history in receptions (649), receiving yards (9,430) and touchdowns (65).

“Cincinnati will always be my first love. That city embraced me,” Green said in a farewell to the city. “My kids were both born when I was there. That’s all we know. Like any business, everything comes to an end at some point. I’m very grateful to the Brown family. They took a risk on the kid at a young age and changed my life forever.”

The Bengals added some desperately needed help along the offensive line in free agency with the signing of left tackle Riley Reiff on a one-year, $7.5 million deal. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow was under siege last year, as he was sacked 32 times. That pressure ultimately resulted in Burrow’s season-ending knee injury.

Cincinnati will now turn their attention the April’s draft, in which they own the fifth-overall selection. Not only will they likely continue to address the offensive line, but they will also look to draft Burrow some new weapons as well.

Additions

CB Tony Brown (Re-signed)

RB Samaje Perine (Re-signed)

CB Jalen Davis (Re-signed)

EDGE Trey Hendrickson

QB Brandon Allen (Re-signed)

DL Larry Ogunjobi

CB Chidobe Awuzie

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LS Clark Harris (Re-signed)

S Brandon Wilson (Re-signed)

CB Mike Hilton

LT Riley Reiff

P Kevin Huber (Re-signed)

CB Eli Apple

G Quinton Spain (Re-signed)

WR Mike Thomas (Re-signed)

Departures

CB Torry McTyer

CB William Jackson III

QB Ryan Finley

WR Alex Erickson

C B.J. Finney

K Randy Bullock

EDGE Carl Lawson

WR John Ross

TE Cethan Carter

WR A.J. Green

Cuts

DT Geno Atkins

OT Bobby Hart

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