4 gambles the Bengals are taking with 53-man roster cuts

  • Punt Returner
  • Backup QB
  • OL Depth
  • DL

Jul 28, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line gather for stretching
Jul 28, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line gather for stretching / The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY
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1. Defensive line

One gamble Cincinnati took was that Raymond Johnson III would make it through waivers. He did. However, while it probably did occur to the team that there was a possibility he would test the waters elsewhere, the Bengals took the chance that, like at the end of a dating game show, Johnson would choose them. He did not. 

Instead, the versatile and productive defensive lineman signed with the Detroit Lions practice squad. The Bengals could sign him to their 53-man roster if Johnson remains there. The risk would be that Johnson could refuse Cincinnati’s gesture again. 

After finishing 29th in sacks, the Bengals could use more firepower in that area. Getting rid of one of their most productive pass rushers from the last two preseasons is probably not the best way to make that happen. 

Along that same line, Johnson also performed well at defensive tackle. He provided a pass rush from up the middle, which is the most disruptive way to affect the opposing offense’s passing game. 

Cincinnati is also betting on Joseph Ossai’s injury not being as bad as it looked when it happened. If Ossai misses significant time, that is unfortunate for him and a defense counting on him to take a step toward becoming a formidable pass rush option in his third year.

The obvious solution if he were to miss time would have been to place him on IR and replace him with Johnson. Alas, that is not how that particular cookie crumbled. 

By releasing Johnson, the team is gambling on edge rusher Trey Hendrickson to return to his 14.5 sack ways. They also hope that Sam Hubbard can reach a double-digit sack season for the first time in his career. 

Now, even more attention will be on first-round pick Myles Murphy. The rookie will need to step up in a big way for the team when he spells Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Hopefully, he will be the pass-rusher they envisioned him becoming when they selected the Clemson star with the 28th overall pick. 

Also, the team is gambling on the interior defensive line in a few ways. Cincinnati is betting on either re-signing D.J. Reader or being comfortable letting him walk out the door next offseason. Reader is an underrated part of the defense who will not be easy to replace if this is his last year in the Queen City. 

Moreover, the coaches are counting on Zach Carter to take another step. They let go of guys who flashed at the defensive tackle spot in the preseason. Dominique Davis and Johnson showed that if given the opportunity, they could be productive NFL players, providing pressure from the interior of the defensive line. The hope is that B.J. Hill, Jay Tufele, and Carter are better disrupters than Johnson and Davis. 


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The Bengals are confident in their decisions regarding the 53-man roster but the organization is taking a few gambles with some of its choices. Going with relatively unproven players at backup quarterback and punt return is a bit risky. Johnson’s signing with the practice squad was a bet they lost. Hopefully, this will be the only gamble that does not work out for them.