"The Bengals gave [La'el] Collins a three-year, $30 million deal that in reality is more of a two-year, $20M deal worth up to $22M, sources tell ESPN's Adam Schefter. [...] Between Collins, center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa, Cincinnati made big investments in boosting its offense and can now maximize their big skill players like Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins."
Now that we’re far enough into NFL free agency to officially declare winners and losers, it’s pretty obvious that the REIGNING AFC CHAMPION Cincinnati Bengals are locked, loaded and hunting for a Lombardi Trophy.
Take your "Super Bowl hangover" narrative and shove it. After watching Joe Burrow’s knee get ripped to shreds in 2020, and seeing him barely escape yet another catastrophic injury in Super Bowl LVI, the Bengals decided to do something about it. They’ve significantly increased the chances that their unproblematic Tiger King face of the franchise will, you know, still have a fucking pulse by the time he’s due for a second contract.
That’s right. Burrow, who led the NFL in completion percentage (70.1%) and yards per pass attempt (8.9) despite also taking the most sacks (51), is actually going to have DECENT — dare I say, above-average!? — pass protection for the first time in his young NFL career. What a concept!!
And it’ll be a trio of glass-eating badasses who'll help the cause. Allow Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack — who’s no doubt thanking the football gods for this sudden influx of talent — to define the colloquial, fatal-sounding term:
Now to break down why each of these guys is such a great fit for what the Bengals are trying to build, beginning with the most recent Super Bowl winner.
Cincinnati lured Alex Cappa away from Tampa Bay, a team he won the damn championship with, even as TOM BRADY tried to convince Cappa to stay upon ending his 40-day retirement. All you really need to know about Cappa can be summarized in this TB12 sound bite:
Man tried to stay in the game on a broken leg. No wonder the GOAT wanted to keep Cappa around. Seriously, if someone of Brady’s caliber is begging you to stay put, you’re probably significantly better than, say, Hakeem Adeniji (no offense, man. Get better at your craft and report back).
Also joining the trenches is ex-Patriot Ted Karras, who has experience as a starting left guard and center, but is expected to play the latter after Trey Hopkins got released. Hopkins fared better in the playoffs, yet that wasn’t enough to justify keeping him around, because during the regular season, he was still TERRIBLE at his position by NFL standards, ranking 35th out of 39 centers, per Pro Football Focus. Saving $6 million in cap space by releasing Hopkins was beyond a no-brainer.
Cappa’s obvious toughness and championship pedigree, paired with Karras’ positional versatility and learning under legendary Patriots assistant Dante Scarnecchia — not to mention the duo's shared experience with Brady —were reason enough for Who Dey Nation to be ecstatic.
But the biggest catch of all is right tackle La’el Collins, given his superior physical tools and upside. Burrow helped seal the deal with another LSU alum, who the Cowboys couldn’t afford to keep. THIS DUDE. I mean, not only is he a massive upgrade over whatever the hell Isaiah Prince was trying to do in pass protection, but he is straight-up NASTY as a run blocker. This clip alone should make Bengals tailback Joe Mixon very, very aroused:
It’s no surprise to learn that Mixon lobbied the team to acquire Collins. Burrow even invited over Cappa, Karras and newly acquired tight end Hayden Hurst to help close on Collins, hosting a get-together at his house with all their significant others. Talk about leadership and the ability to unite people. Joey B is true culture-changing material.
Between the Joes’ recruitment, Collins’ familiarity with Pollack after they worked together in Dallas, and the Bengals’ recent run to the Super Bowl, there was no need for Collins to make any more free-agent visits.
Exciting as it is for Burrow to remain upright more often and not have his literal mortality hanging in the balance every time he drops back to pass, just imagine what Mixon can do with Cappa, Karras and Collins leading the way for him in space. Mixon averaged 4.1 yards per carry behind last year’s mostly abysmal group. Thankfully, the Bengals' willingness to shell out cash and the presence of a strong Burrow-led roster have made Cincinnati an appealing destination.
A fair number of casual NFL fans are aware that spending sprees and aggressively attacking roster areas of weakness haven’t been the Bengals’ M.O. in the past. They’re historically, notoriously cheap. Carson Palmer is STILL bitter about the organization not doing enough to compete for championships during his prime.
Things have changed. Cincinnati has been among the league’s most active teams of late on the open market, and even more impressively, has nailed just about every conceivable move. D.J. Reader, Trey Hendrickson, Vonn Bell, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton are all exceptional starters who’ve joined the team inside the past two seasons to help transform the Bengals’ defense.
One glaring area the Bengals didn’t adequately address until now is the o-line. It can’t be understated how bad that freaking unit has been in front of Burrow — particularly on the right side. Riley Reiff was more of a one-year Band-Aid at right tackle in 2021, and ultimately got injured. Counting on first-year pros Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith proved unfruitful. They weren’t ready.
Hell, if you look at Twitter, most fans want left guard QUINTON SPAIN to return to the team. Spain had a resurgent 2021 campaign, yet still finished as a pedestrian player who ranked 51st out of 80 qualifying guards in PFF’s pass-blocking grades. Raise your standards, folks. I mean, you can’t expect every starting offensive lineman to be a stud, but it’s OK to aspire to someone greater, especially before Joey B. gets his massive payday.
According to head coach Zac Taylor, Carman will indeed get a crack at filling Spain’s spot:
Carman should get first dibs, if for no other reason than to justify spending the 46th overall pick on him last April. He got benched twice trying to transition from left tackle to right guard as a rookie. Big surprise. Again, the whole right side of Cincy’s line was just an abject disaster.
Provided the sophomore Clemson product gets his shit together, the starting group should look something like this:
(LT) Jonah Williams — (LG) Jackson Carman — (C) Ted Karras — (RG) Alex Cappa — (RT) La’el Collins
With so many reinforcements in place to better protect Burrow, the Bengals’ draft can focus on developing competition for the starting cornerback spot opposite Awuzie — seriously, is it OK to ask for someone better than Eli Apple at CB2? — building interior defensive line depth, and heck, maybe even uncharacteristically trading up in the first round to enhance the chances of landing more of an instant-impact player. That sounds like crazy talk given Cincinnati’s historic aversion to draft day trades, but as the Glass Eaters investment further underscores, the game has changed at Bengals headquarters.
The AFC has been a chaotic arms race this offseason, and while teams like the Browns, Broncos and others are taking wild swings at QB upgrades, the Bengals have made steady, savvy moves to position themselves for a legitimate chance at defending their AFC crown.
Before you talk smack and say the Chiefs win was a fluke, that team is tearing itself apart. News broke today that superstar receiver Tyreek Hill has been traded to the Miami Dolphins. He’s throwing up that cute little peace sign of his and taking his talents to South Beach. The AFC West is stacked, and we’re about to see just how good KC’s offense is over the course of an entire season sans Hill. Suddenly, the widely perceived conference kingpin is on the canvas.
Bottom line for the Bengals: The possibilities seem limitless if their glass-eating, phonetically-pleasing trio of Cappa, Karras and Collins becomes even 85% of what they’re collectively supposed to be. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.
So, to all the doubters and haters who aren't feeling our playoff chances next year and want to rain on our offseason parade after that magical run through the AFC: