Three of the four Cincinnati Bengals high profile free agent signees came on defense. Speaking on the Bengals Booth Podcast, director of player personnel Duke Tobin stated that they hit on defense. Cincinnati signed cornerbacks Chidobe Awuize and Mike Hilton and defensive end Trey Hendrickson as defensive free agents.
Awuzie and Hilton add much-needed depth at CB and Hendrickson is an upgrade to what was an anemic Bengals pass rush in 2020. Cincinnati was 27th against the pass in yards and touchdowns in 2020 despite allowing only the 14th most attempts. The Bengals were last in the NFL in 2020 with 17 sacks.
Hendrickson finished tied for second in the NFL with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald with 13.5 sacks in 2020. Playing for the New Orleans Saints last season there has been some criticism Hendrickson accumulated many coverage sacks and benefitted from the attention on other defensive linemen.
Awuzie and Hilton are veterans who are expected to start for the Bengals. Awuzie is the likely replacement for William Jackson III, while Hilton will primarily be in the slot in place of Makenzie Alexander who departed in free agency. Expect Cincinnati to add depth at edge rusher and linebacker in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.
We hit on defense, which is fine by me. Where we were, we needed help there. We needed some new names, some new faces, some guys coming from other programs and guys with careers left in them. Guys with success and toughness and swagger. When the opportunities came on defense, we didn’t turn them down.
We’re pleased with the way it happened. You have to look at free agency to where the depth is, where the opportunity is and then adapt to that. It doesn’t always line up with your number one needs.”
The additions of Henrickson and Hilton coming from New Orleans and the Pittsburgh Steelers who have long been successful franchises should help the Bengals young roster develop. After parting with several veterans during the offseason, the Bengals roster is going to have to learn how to win over the next few seasons.
The swagger Tobin alluded to is the process of producing a winning franchise. Signing Awuzie, Hendrickson and Hilton adding much-needed veteran leadership to a Bengals defense that otherwise would have been lacking older players. A pair of young veteran safeties should lead the Bengals defense in 2021.
Jessie Bates had an exceptional season in his third year with Cincinnati in 2020. In his first year with the Bengals in 2020 and fifth year in the NFL after signing as a free agent from New Orleans last year, Vonn Bell gave Cincinnati one of the best safety tandems in the NFL last season. The Bengals secondary should be greatly improved.