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Free Agent Report Card: Bengals Add Trey Hendrickson, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie

We are grading every Bengals signing in free agency
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It's an offseason like no other in the NFL, and the Cincinnati Bengals emphasized that they want to take advantage of this unique financial climate. The time is now to maximize Joe Burrow's potential and bring a winner to hungry Bengals fans everywhere.

Cincinnati made three key additions to their defensive over the past 48 hours. We're going to grade each signing, breakdown positional impact, value and give you one key stat to know about each player.

Without further ado, let's get to know some of these new faces on Cincinnati's roster.

Trey Hendrickson, Edge: C+

Trey Hendrickson busted onto the scene last season, finishing with 13.5 sacks. He made the most of his chances on a pick-your-poison defensive front in New Orleans. The move stinks a bit like desperation after Carl Lawson took a deal with the Jets late Monday evening. The Bengals had the fewest sacks in the league with Lawson, and there isn't a strong argument that Hendrickson is an upgrade over the Auburn-product on the right side.

Positional Impact

Hendrickson is poised to take over one of the most important positions on the defense. He lined up a majority of the time on the right side for the Saints. Now he'll man the same spot that Lawson was in for the Bengals last season. As one of the top cap hits on this team, Hendrickson will be asked to play even more than the 53% of snaps he tallied in 2020. Lawson was on the field for 66% of snaps in 2020. 

The biggest reason for optimism here is the compound effect Hendrickson has displayed—the more he plays, the more impactful he becomes.

Hendrickson recorded a pressure rate of 12.3% on 236 pass-rush snaps in 2019 and followed it with a 16.7% rate on 317 rushes in 2020 according to Sports Info Solutions.

Stat To Know: His 7.5 expected sacks ranked 24th in ESPN's metric which credits the person who first beat their blocker, as opposed to the person who finished the sack. He was also treated as an average pass rusher by opposing defenses.

Value: The Bengals have essentially signed Hendrickson to a year-by-year contract with a total 2021 payout of $20 million dollars. There are no hard commitments following this season, leaving Hendrickson the task of proving he can be a perennial 10+ sack player. This is the clear difference from the deal Lawson signed, which includes $30 million in guarantees. If he pops, the Bengals get great value in replacing Lawson. While the opposite leaves the team in a similar spot to where they were Sunday—searching for a premier sack artist.

Chidobe Awuzie, CB: A-

The Bengals got the ball rolling faster on day two of free agency by signing former Dallas Cowboys corner Chidobe Awuzie to a three-year deal. Awuzie figures to be the Bengals starting outside cornerback opposite of Trae Waynes. Awuzie appeared in eight games last season, totaling 38 tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception and five passes defended.

Positional Impact: This move was one of the many signs that William Jackson III wouldn't return to Cincinnati. He signed with Washington and now the Bengals' defense is relying on two boundary cornerbacks that haven't played a game for the team yet. Awuzie can thrive in the correct defense, unfortunately, Dallas was a disaster on that side of the ball in 2020. The 2017 second-round pick suffered from the disfunction around him. He also dealt with a hamstring issue. Combine the injury with head-scratching game plans from former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and it's obviously why Awuzie and the rest of the team struggled on defense. 

Stat To Know: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Awuzie forced a tight window on 30.9% of his targets in coverage since 2017, which is the 7th-highest among 71 defensive backs with 200+ targets over that span. Jackson III ranked 5th in this metric (31.7%).

Value: This is a steal for the Bengals to replace Jackson III. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported the deal is worth $21.75 million over three years, with $9.25 million in year one. That would make him the 26th highest-paid cornerback in the league on a per-year basis. A steal for a player who has played up to number one cornerback status the majority of his career

Mike Hilton, CB: B+

Plenty of new faces are ready to make their mark in the Bengals' secondary, including former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton. The defensive back signed a four-year deal worth $24 million to play in Cincinnati. Hilton is one of the best blitzing cornerbacks in the NFL, notching three sacks in 2020. He figures to keep that same mentality as a howitzer coming off the nickel cornerback position previously held by Mackensie Alexander. 

Positional Impact: Meet your new slot stopper ladies and gentleman. Hilton's knack for getting after the passer adds another wrinkle for Lou Anarumo to use on game day. Seahawks safety Jamal Adams wears the crown for best blitzer in any secondary, but Hilton has a strong case for second place. Of the eight defensive backs to notch at least 55 pass-rush snaps in 2020, Hilton's sack rate (5.5%) ranked second behind Adams according to Sports Info Solutions.

Stat To Know: According to Pro Football Focus, Hilton allowed a 59.9 passer rating from the slot in 2020, only ranking behind Darnell Savage (58.0). 

Value: Cincinnati has increased its investment at starting slot cornerback by over 50% with this contract after paying Alexander $4 million in 2020. Hilton has the skill and track record to outperform this number. Anarumo is the X-factor in that equation as he figures out the best way to utilize Hilton's physical presence in the slot.

For the latest free agency news, bookmark AllBengals and check out some of our other articles below.


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