The La'el Collins in Cincinnati era wasn't a long one, as the Bengals released the offensive tackle on Tuesday. The Cincinnati Bengals signed Collins last offseason after their offensive line got destroyed in the Super Bowl loss to the Rams.
Collins had a very up-and-down season in Cincinnati (he had an overall PFF grade of 57.9) and was injured late in the regular season. The injury caused him to miss the final two regular season games and three playoff games. When the Bengals' 2023 offseason began, no one was sure what would happen to Collins, as he was recovering from his injury.
The Bengals went on to sign Orlando Brown Jr. in free agency, move Jonah Williams to the right tackle spot, and stick Collins on the PUP list. One week into the season, the Bengals opted to release Collins altogether, marking the end of his short stay in the Queen City.
Offensive line depth is ultimately what sank the Bengals during last year's playoff run so releasing Collins might have confused some Bengals fans. The team lost both of their starting tackles (including Collins) and their right guard and that came back to haunt them in the AFC Championship Game, as Chris Jones and the rest of the Chiefs pass-rush teed off on the banged-up o-line.
So, why did the Bengals let La'el Collins go? There are a few reasons.
Potentially the biggest factor for why the Bengals did this was that they saved roughly $7 million by cutting Collins. That's a lot of money to save when you consider that he's not starting and as of now, isn't even on the active roster. He's also 30 years old and coming off a not-so-great season.
The Bengals can use the saved money at the trade deadline if they decide to acquire a big-name player to help them with their playoff run. That hypothetical player would likely help the Bengals more than Collins would.
As mentioned above, Collins didn't live up to the lofty expectations that he set for himself when he signed with the team. He boasted about how he'd be Joe Burrow's bodyguard during his time in Cincinnati and that couldn't have been further from the truth.
Collins wasn't awful in his only season in the black and orange stripes but he didn't do himself any favors with his play either.
Confidence in D'Ante Smith
Another reason the Bengals might have felt okay about letting Collins go was that they believed that D'Ante Smith could step in and be a serviceable backup if called upon. Smith is listed as the backup left tackle on Our Lads' depth chart but what likely would happen if Orlando Brown got injured is that Jonah Williams would move back to left tackle and Smith would then slot in at right tackle.
Smith is a former fourth-round pick out of East Carolina who has played in just three games since entering the league. He did show some flashes of potential during the preseason, however, and the Bengals probably wouldn't make this move if they didn't think Smith was capable of being a quality backup.
At the end of the day, not every free agent signing is going to work out and La'el Collins is another example of that.