In the 2013 offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals allowed starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to hit free agency, where he tested the market before making his return to the Queen City on a two-year deal.
This offseason, the Bengals face a similar situation with offensive tackle Anthony Collins. After starting several games at left tackle, Collins ranked as the No. 24 overall tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Unlike Maualuga, Collins is not going to hit the market, find a soft reception and come back to familiar surroundings.
That sure sounds like what the Bengals are hoping for at this point.
Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer says the Bengals are content to let Collins test the market, and if a bigger deal comes along, so be it:
Assuming the Bengals decide to move Andrew Whitworth to guard as a part of Hue Jackson’s dedication to the run something would need to be done about left tackle. More than likely Cincinnati will shoot out an initial offer and allow Collins to test the market. If somebody is going to back the truck up to him, they will say congratulations and move in another direction. If the market value dips back and doesn’t produce what Collins hoped for (see Smith, Andre) the team will be waiting with open arms.
Honestly, it is a smart approach by the Bengals—it just won’t work out with Collins ending up back in Cincinnati.
In a pass-first league, linebackers such as Maualuga who specialize only against the run are not a major focal point for most teams. Add in the fact Maualuga had disappointed up to that point as a pro, and it is easy to see why he had just one free agency visit (Arizona) before he went back to Cincinnati and likely settled for something closer to the franchise’s number than his.
The above works in Collins’ favor. In a league where the air attack is the focal point, a premium is placed on left tackles who can protect the blindside. Collins more than showed he can do that last season and will find it rather easy to drive up his price on the open market.
At the time, it was not a popular move to bring Maualuga back. But it worked out in the end, as Maualuga had his best year as a pro. The same can happen with Collins, sure. But like the potential loss of Maualuga, the team would have been just fine with sliding Vontaze Burfict to the middle or giving Vincent Rey the nod in the middle. The same holds true if Collins leaves — Whitworth goes back to the outside or the Bengals use a high draft choice on a top tackle prospect.
The point is, the Bengals are handling the Collins situation in a smart manner. The approach worked with Maualuga, it just won’t happen twice given the circumstances and parties involved — and that’s just fine.