By: Will Baptist
It is no secret in Cincinnati that protecting franchise QB Joe Burrow is the key to success for the Bengals. After suffering a devastating knee injury that ended his season last year in week 11 against the Washington Football Team, he is on track to begin the year fully healthy.
There are still numerous talented offensive linemen on the free agent market that could provide a much needed boost to the Bengals line. The Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season, and they must continue to improve this group, to keep Burrow upright.
The player that stands out above all is OT Mitchell Schwartz, who could provide leadership and solidify the RT position for the Bengals. Schwartz has been a staple of the Chiefs offensive line for the last five seasons, and after battling injuries throughout 2020, he is a free agent, and the Bengals should aggressively pursue him.
Schwartz is 31 years old, and played 357 snaps last season, and only recorded one penalty and allowed two sacks. He recorded a PFF grade of 74.7 last season, while being Second-Team All-Pro in 2019. The Bengals desperately need consistency and leadership on their offensive line, and Schwartz is the perfect match, and would not be overly expensive to bring in on a one-year deal.
Schwartz is a former Super Bowl champion, and still has plenty left in the tank. That type of playoff experience could prove to be just what the Bengals need as they are trying to take the next step as an organization.
Bengals Additions to the OL
The Bengals lone outside signing on the offensive line during free agency was Riley Reiff, who has the ability to slide into guard, while Schwartz could make an immediate impact at RT. Reiff is 32, and along with second round pick, OG Jackson Carman, will be the only additions to the Bengals offensive line.
The Bengals still have over $20 million in cap space, and they have not done enough in the offseason to drastically improve the offensive line to ensure Burrow stays healthy.
After missing on multiple top tier free agent offensive lineman, and selecting WR Ja’Marr Chase over OT Penei Sewell, the Bengals offensive line remains a concern. They did improve the line by bringing back OL coach, Frank Pollack, who is a massive upgrade over his predecessor, Jim Turner.
Pollack was the OL coach in Cincinnati in 2018, when RB Joe Mixon had the best seasons of his career. The players and coaching staff are elated to have Pollack back in the building, and hopefully he can contribute to improving this group.
The Bengals have the talent to be a much improved group in 2021, led by LT Jonah Williams. Williams had his season cut short due to injury last year, but the former first round selection showed he has the potential to be an elite LT for years to come if he can remain healthy.
They will also be relying on C Trey Hopkins to make a full recovery after tearing his ACL in week 17 last year. It is concerning that the Bengals best offensive linemen and quarterback are coming off serious injuries, and they have to rely on them to bounce back next season.
Adding more offensive lineman, regardless of the cost, has to be the priority for this franchise. They cannot be complacent with just bringing in Reiff, and drafting Carman, they have to continuously look to improve the OL, to keep Burrow satisfied. The Bengals bringing in Schwartz would show they are committed to winning and keeping Burrow healthy, and could prove to be a steal if Schwartz remains healthy.