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Offseason Primer: Cincinnati Bengals Continuing Youth Movement with No. 5 Pick, A.J. Green Set for Free Agency

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Last season proved another challenging campaign for the 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did they finish last in the AFC North for the third consecutive year, but they also lost quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, to a season-ending knee injury Week 11.

Burrow was having a strong rookie season prior to the injury, passing for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions through ten games. He also demonstrated his mobility adding three scores on the ground.

The former Heisman winner needed that mobility throughout the season, as he was sacked 32 times. Strengthening the offensive line to better protect Burrow in the future will be paramount for the Bengals, a goal they will likely address both through free agency and the draft.

Burrow also operated the majority of the season without the services of running back Joe Mixon, who saw action in just six games due to a foot injury. Mixon rushed for a career-low 428 yards and three touchdowns.

While Mixon will be back healthy in 2021, wide receiver A.J. Green is expected to be playing elsewhere next season. Green remained relatively healthy and played in all 16 games, but posted career lows across the board in receiving yards (523) and touchdowns (2). With Green set to hit free agency in just a few months, he will end his Bengals career as the second most prolific receiver in franchise history, trailing only Chad Johnson.

Green may not be the only franchise mainstay the Bengals part ways with this offseason. As the youth movement in Cincinnati continues, they could also move on from defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The two-time All-Pro was virtually invisible this past season and saw his snap counts consistently drop week-by-week. He recorded just a single tackle and a quarterback hit in eight games. Still under contract the next two seasons for $24.6 million, Cincinnati and the 32-year-old are likely headed for a divorce, either by trade or release.

The Bengals’ defense faced their fair share of struggles themselves, but free safety Jessie Bates III was one of the lone bright spots. Bates led the team with 109 total tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defended. He was honored as the Bengals’ 2020 Team MVP by the Cincinnati Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Cincinnati’s defensive struggles can largely be pinned on their lackluster pass rush, which recorded the fewest sacks in football with 17. Acquiring a difference maker along the defensive line is at the top of their wishlist.

Cincinnati will have plenty of opportunities to retool and add talent with eight total picks in April’s draft, including the No. 5-overall selection.

Notable Free Agents:

WR A.J. Green
SS Shawn Williams
WR John Ross
CB Mackensie Alexander
CB William Jackson
P Kevin Huber
WR Alex Erickson
TE Cethan Carter
S Brandon Wilson
G Alex Redmond
K Randy Bullock
CB LeShaun Sims
ILB Josh Bynes
DT Christian Covington
DT Mike Daniels
LS Clark Harris
DE Margus Hunt
DT Xavier Williams
WR Mike Thomas
QB Brandon Allen
DE Carl Lawson
CB Tony Brown*
RB Samaje Perine
OLB Jordan Evans

Cap Commitments:

Cincinnati has an active cap of $148,458,547 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Bengals have the fifth-most cap space in the league at $34,224,143.

Steelers Opponents

Bengals Release former Steelers Center B.J. Finney

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The Cincinnati Bengals have released center B.J. Finney, the club announced Friday.

Finney began 2020 with the Seattle Seahawks after signing a two-year, $8 million deal in the offseason, but was traded to Cincinnati on Oct. 28. He saw action in just one game with the Bengals.

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State by the Steelers in 2015, Finney played four seasons in Pittsburgh as a plug-and-play offensive lineman. He started 13 games over his Steelers career.

The Steelers lost starting center Maurkice Pouney to retirement and starting left guard Matt Feiler is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career.

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NFL

Mic Drop: Hating Tom Brady is Simply Jealousy

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Do you hate Tom Brady? If you answer yes to that question, ask yourself why you hate Tom Brady. Mike Asti explains why it’s time for football fans to just stop hating Tom Brady and realize that their hatred is simply rooted in jealousy for the greatest quarterback of all-time.

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NFL

Le’Veon Bell Doesn’t Regret Sitting Out 2018 Season with Steelers

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Le’Veon Bell doesn’t regret the path he took to leave the Pittsburgh Steelers, he told reporters on Tuesday.

It seems to have worked out pretty well for Bell, who will play in Super Bowl LV this Sunday, the first Super Bowl of his career, in his second season after signing a contract that took him away from Pittsburgh.

Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after refusing to sign the Steelers’ second consecutive franchise tender. Instead, he waiting for free agency and signed a four-year contract with the New York Jets worth a guaranteed $35 million.

A year and a half into that contract, the contract wasn’t working out for either party, as Bell had failed to recapture the individual success he had in Pittsburgh and the Jets were well on their way to a second straight losing season. Bell asked for a trade from New York, and when the Jets couldn’t find a partner, they released Bell.

He caught on in Kansas City, signing a contract for the rest of the 2020 season to help the Chiefs take the load off rookie starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He ended up starting two games for Kansas City and playing in nine, rushing for 254 yards and two scores.

But even during the worst of his run with the Jets, Bell said he never considered sitting out in Pittsburgh to be a mistake.

“No, that never crossed my mind,” Bell said. “Me sitting out, I feel like it helped me on the back end of my career. … It kind of like reset my body. I feel like it’s going to help me for the end of my career and elongate my career.”

Bell expressed some disappointment in not being able to play the Steelers in the postseason. Pittsburgh was unbeaten when Bell signed with the Chiefs, and it looked like the teams were on a collision course in the AFC, but the Steelers lost five of their last six games to close the season.

“We thought we were going to have to see the Steelers at some point, which I was excited about,” Bell said. “Obviously, it didn’t end up happening.”

One member of Bell’s Steelers that he will see this week is wide receiver Antonio Brown, who also manufactured his exit from Pittsburgh, demanding a trade in the 2019-20 offseason that took him from Pittsburgh to Oakland. Brown was then cut by the Raiders, signed with New England, got suspended and was released again before eventually signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s crazy to think as long as we’ve been playing together, we’ve never made it to this point, but playing against each other is going to be fun,” Bell said.

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