The Bengals released running back Giovani Bernard on Wednesday. The veteran spent eight seasons with the club and was entering the final year of his contract.
The Bengals took Bernard in the second-round (37th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft. He developed into a reliable player on the field and was always loyal to his teammates and coaches.
Bernard is known for his versatility. He racked up 3,697 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. He also hauled in 342 receptions (most ever by a Bengals running back) for 2,867 yards and 11 scores through the air.
Bernard was asked to take a pay cut two weeks into free agency according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Instead of taking less, he asked for his release. The Bengals granted that request and saved $4.1M in cap space.
The timing of the move is odd for a few reasons. The team shouldn't need to clear cap space. They had $23 million in space (now $27 million) prior to the move. The Bengals' offense is much better with Bernard than without him.
He filled in admirably when Joe Mixon went down last season, finishing with 416 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. He also had 47 receptions for 355 yards and three more scores.
Additionally, he's a great pass blocker and can make life easier on quarterback Joe Burrow and there was plenty of reason to keep Bernard.
The Bengals aren't cap strapped. They have plenty of space for their eight draft picks and any other veterans they want to add in free agency.
It's hard to see how this move benefits the team in 2021 unless they plan on taking the $4 million they saved and turning it into a starting offensive lineman.
Bernard's leadership was also evident—especially over the past couple of seasons. He strongly voiced his support of head coach Zac Taylor last November after multiple sources confirmed dysfunction inside the locker room.
“I have faith in the coaching staff. I have 100% faith in Coach Taylor. He's done an unbelievable job," Bernard said. "He cares for his players no matter what circumstances and no matter how many wins or losses we have he's just a guy who comes in here each and every single day ready to work."
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Bernard is a quality player and was a leader in the Bengals' locker room. He did everything that was asked of him on and off the field.
They have other options at running back with Mixon, Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams, but replacing Bernard's leadership is going to be much easier said than done.
The 29-year-old is one of multiple former Bengals that will be on a new team next season. The Bengals also released former All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, while A.J. Green (Cardinals), Carl Lawson (Jets), and William Jackson III (Washington) signed elsewhere in free agency.
Bernard is expected to receive plenty of interest on the open market. Kansas City could be looking for another back, while Arizona may pursue him in hopes of replacing Kenyan Drake with a proven veteran. Keep an eye on Tampa Bay and Miami. They could also go after Bernard.
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