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Bengals assess murky offensive tackle picture: Another push on the revolving door?

INDIANAPOLIS — Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack stood with his hand on a rail in the hallway of the downtown Indianapolis Westin and let out a chuckle.

The question was about being wedded to the idea of Jonah Williams as the starting left tackle or his potential move to the other side. The question held merit.

But what’s been a two-year process of evaluating, replacing and fixing the offensive line, what’s been the club’s largest liability never seems to come with clarity in February.

“I laugh because I’ve been in this league long enough to say we are not wedded to anything,” Pollack said. “Tomorrow, everything could change and who knows where everyone is going to be? That’s just the nature of the league. Everyone understands that.”

One year ago this week, Pollack declared a search for “glass eaters” here at the NFL Scouting Combine and found them in Alex Cappa, Ted Karras and Cordell Volson on the interior and La’el Collins at right side. The process was a success year over year, arriving at free agency better defined by stability than liability this time around — on the interior, specifically.

Volson played well enough to earn the confidence of the staff and produce expectations for steady improvement in his second year. Karras and Cappa instantly became staples of proficiency and personality up front.

Williams didn’t take an anticipated next step forward at left tackle, even struggling for stretches of the season. Still, overall he maintained a solid enough level of play, specifically when considering his track record and age. He’s also going nowhere, under contract for a fully guaranteed $12.9 million fifth-year option the club picked up last year. He recently underwent surgery on his knee, which he dislocated, sidelining him in the playoffs.

Despite all those factors, on Tuesday, Pollack called Williams the starter at left tackle, when healthy.

Then there’s a mess at right tackle. Again.

You need to go back to 2013 to find a year when the Bengals lineman with the most snaps at right tackle graded even at league average of the position, via PFF.

The list reads like an all-time ranking for sources of frustration:

• 2022 La’el Collins: 57.9
• 2021 Riley Reiff: 67.3
• 2020 Bobby Hart: 66.3
• 2019 Bobby Hart: 57.6
• 2018 Bobby Hart: 57.1
• 2017 Andre Smith: 55.3
• 2016 Cedric Ogbuehi: 60.4
• 2015 Andre Smith: 58.8
• 2014 Andre Smith: 65.2

Coming off a conference championship game loss when the last real offensive play involved Chris Jones’ lining up over right tackle Hakeem Adeniji for a drive-killing sack on third down, the Bengals return to square one with multiple options in front of them.

Collins decision and in-house considerations

Signing Collins after his release from Dallas last year was thought to be a coup. Instead, it more resembled every other failed fix at right tackle. Collins missed the majority of camp with a back injury, was at the center of a ferocious donnybrook with the Rams during joint practices, struggled mightily out of the gate, didn’t practice Wednesdays during the season and eventually saw his year end with a torn ACL and MCL suffered on Christmas Eve in New England.

He’ll turn 30 just before camp begins. Cutting him would save $6.1 million against this year’s cap with $3.3 million in dead money. If the cut came with a post-June 1 designation, it would save $7.7 million and cost just $1.7 million in dead money.

Along with performance, his age, injuries and finances make him a prime candidate to be let go.

As for a quick glance at that performance, consider the execution of his most important task: protecting Joe Burrow.


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Let’s eliminate the first four weeks of the season with Collins’ coming off the missed camp and back issue. Pollack acknowledged it took time for Collins to get his “season legs” underneath him and took a month for the Bengals to adjust the scheme to personnel.

“Came out of that and played the way we hoped he would be,” Pollack said.

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Collins found his footing on a line that mostly thrived before injuries tore it apart in late December, calling Collins “ascending” as the season went on.

The word would be half right and a nod to public kindness.

Extracting the first four weeks as a benefit of the doubt, there were 53 tackles with a qualifying number of pass-blocking snaps. Collins ranked 51st in both PFF pass-blocking grade and pass-blocking grade in true pass sets. Collins partially made up for the deficiency as the team’s best run blocker, a powerful hammer in the downhill, shotgun, gap scheme they successfully pivoted to midseason. But the value of the position will always lie in pass protection.

These numbers were below his performance level in previous seasons, but the Bengals must weigh what’s more likely: a return to previous performance or age and injuries leaving him the same or worse.

The reliability of Collins’ being ready and on top of his game early next season is an overwhelming concern. Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin was clear he didn’t want to rule Collins out if he can return to full health. Pollack echoed the sentiment.

“Any time somebody’s coming off an injury, you want to get them as far along as possible before you have to make any decisions and see if they’re gonna be able to fit the bill next year,” Tobin said. “LC’s gonna work super hard at it. He’s already doing that. He’s made of the right stuff.”

If Collins is let go or not healthy early in the year, could there be an internal movement to fill the gap? The first name brought up was Williams, who has taken every snap of his professional career on the left side.

The interesting tone this week was the ambiguity surrounding Williams’ status as the left tackle. Nobody was emphatically planting their flag with Williams as a clear answer at left tackle.

“I thought Jonah did a nice job for us at left tackle,” head coach Zac Taylor said, “so we’ll just continue to get through the offseason and see where our team is at.”

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Jonah Williams has only played left tackle in his NFL career. (Jerome Miron / USA Today)

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan did throw cold water on a potential move to the right side.

“It’d be tough,” he said. “He’s spent his whole career, really, especially as a pro, as a left tackle. Moving him would probably be pretty difficult. It’s probably not something that he would be necessarily excited about, either. I’m sure as a team-first guy, he would do it if that’s what was best for us. But that’s a hard switch to make.”

Optimism hit the microphones surrounding the acknowledged small sample in which Jackson Carman played left tackle in Williams’ absence.

Pollack pointed out Carman could be “in the mix” at the right tackle spot. Tobin said Carman showed he’s got a future in this league and could be a starter.

“It depends on who else is with us,” Tobin said.

The theme was encouragement over Carman’s direction considering where his career was headed when he was easily beaten out by Volson in camp. At the very least, he’s solidified himself as a versatile backup, capable of covering both tackle and guard on either side. Anything more will be up to Carman and how he approaches next season as a maturing professional.

None of which the Bengals can confidently count on given his track record.

Answers in the draft?

Last year marked the first time the Bengals even marginally hit on an offensive line draft pick outside the top 20 in nearly a decade. Volson started every game after being selected in the fourth round.

Still, the track record of drafting offensive line answers has not gone well in Cincinnati. The Bengals select at 28 and 60 in the first two rounds. This draft doesn’t set up well for options at those spots. After consensus top three tackles Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson and Broderick Jones expectedly go off the board early, our Dane Brugler only ranks one offensive tackle in his top 100 before 52 (Tennessee’s Darnell Wright).

Not a great supply versus demand for any team interested in using a late first-round pick on the position. Could they use a selection on somebody who could grow into a tackle of the future with Williams in the last year of his contract? Of course. That would make for an effective one-two punch with a veteran free agent.

“With Jonah, where he’s at contractually, you’re always looking for guys where you have one eye toward the future and what that looks like,” Callahan said.

For the short term, to think a team with the expectations the Bengals will have next year trots out a rookie tackle with enough warts he fell to the bottom of the first round or lower would qualify as risky.

“I think it’s hard to do,” Pollack said of starting immediately from that spot. “No matter where you pick in the draft. Especially at the back end of the draft. Those kind of guys are going to go in the top five picks, top 10 if you are lucky … Not that it can’t be done. You can find a starter in the third day of the draft. Just depends on who that guy is, what’s he made up of. The draft is interesting.”

Free-agent options

The likely scenario involves the Bengals’ picking a veteran partner at tackle, even if they hang on to Collins to monitor his rehab or select a tackle early in the draft. Pollack is digging into that tape and figuring out the next target to fit his system just as he pinpointed last year.



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If history serves as a market guide, Karras, Cappa and Collins earned cap hits last season between $4.6 million and $6.7 million.

Now, it’s important to point out Tobin’s tone Tuesday regarding outside free agents. They don’t plan on being active in the early windows as they were in recent years. The shift from build to sustain means a shift back to spending the majority of money internally. They will still spend to the cap, but not look outside the building for the largest investments.

What does all that mean for options this year? There were 15 players with at least 500 snaps at right tackle and a PFF grade of at least 70 (league average) last year. Five of those 15 are free agents. Here’s that list with the projected average annual market value, via Spotrac.

Free-agent RT group (min PFF 70.0)





Market $




2022 PFF





























Jermaine Eluemunor fits into the profile of whom the Bengals snagged early in free agency last season. The reason he would be available at a mid-tier price is a lack of track record. A fifth-round pick of the Ravens in 2015, he’s been on three teams in six seasons and last year was his first logging more than 420 snaps, but he’s still only 28 and performed the best out of this entire group in pass protection, tied for seventh of 53 tackles in true pass set grade.

A similar profile exists with Cameron Fleming, playing for four teams in nine seasons. Last year marked only his second with more than 330 snaps. Still, he performed well splitting time at left and right tackle for the Broncos, but age becomes a factor as he crosses the 30 barrier the Bengals have shied away from.

Age would be a bigger concern with Kelvin Beachum, though that’s why he’d present a less expensive option. Cost would make Mike McGlinchey and Kaleb McGary nonstarters, with the Bengals’ not desiring to go into the top tier of free agency. Other names that didn’t cross the 70-grade barrier but could fit the mold include the Chiefs’ Andrew Wylie, 28, and the Jets’ George Fant, 30.

Keep in mind, Collins didn’t enter the equation until it became clear Dallas was cutting him near the start of the new league year. Other targets could emerge as teams make cut decisions.

For instance, Taylor Lewan, 31, recently released by the Titans with a career at left tackle, pointed out he’d have interest in joining the Bengals. Such a move would cause new decisions with Williams and the dominoes would fall.

Signs do point to a fourth starting right tackle in four seasons for the Bengals with eyes on the uncertain future of both outside spots. A draft pick’s inserting himself into a competition is logical.

“It’s always a continual grind getting enough offensive linemen,” Tobin said. “We’ll keep churning that.”

(Top photo of La’el Collins: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

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