The Cincinnati Bengals have a host of questions to answer this offseason as it pertains to free agency, with one of the most difficult involving backup offensive tackle Anthony Collins.
Collins figured to be a rather easy player to retain this offseason before the 2013 season, but he then started six games at left tackle thanks to an injury to left guard Clint Boling. He played well, but perhaps more importantly, it allowed Andrew Whitworth to kick inside, where he was absolutely dominant next to the weak point on the line, center Kyle Cook.
As is the case any year, the Bengals have been mum on offseason plans. Now, there is at least a shred of evidence the team wants to bring back Collins, thanks to this nugget from Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ website:
With left guard Clint Boling (ACL) most likely sidelined before the Bengals make a decision on him for training camp, a key player in the equation is fifth-round pick Tanner Hawkinson whether or not Whitworth is moved. The Bengals liked what the 6-5, 300-pound Hawkinson did at both left guard and left tackle last preseason. If they lose Collins in free agency, the Bengals have Hawkinson as well as a relatively deep tackle draft. But, they’d like to keep Collins, which may or may not indicate how they’d like the line to set up.
It is great news that the Bengals want to bring back Collins, if Hobson’s word has any connection to the pulse of the front office. After all, Collins ranked as the No. 24 overall tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Considering Collins is 28 years old and very productive in a starting role, he is going to command a nice chunk of change on the open market. But he is still a better expenditure than say, defensive end Michael Johnson — who will command even more once he reaches the pool of free agents.
Collins is now starter material, and the staff has to seriously consider bringing him back to stay outside with Whitworth inside. Two birds with one stone and all that. Whitworth is getting up there in age, anyway. Collins is simply more important with the long-term in mind, considering Johnson plays a position that has routinely found success in the confines of the Cincinnati defense.
Despite a hefty free cap-space number well north of $20 million, that money will evaporate quickly in future years with deals for free agents, draft picks and potential extensions for guys like A.J. Green. The money simply is not there to keep both Collins and Johnson.
The retention of Collins also opens things up for the Bengals in the draft. Rather than spending a high pick on a lineman to start at either of the positions on the left side, the team can use high picks to further reinforce other future areas of need such as cornerback and defensive tackle.
The Bengals have the right idea in their desire to keep Collins around. In a short span, he has turned into a starting-caliber player and is important to the future of the team in a multitude of ways. The theme in Cincinnati under Marvin Lewis has been talent retention and continuity, so expect them to make a strong push at Collins as the offseason progresses.