CINCINNATI — The Bengals have no choice but to add multiple offensive linemen to their roster this offseason.
Cincinnati allowed the fifth-most sacks (48) in the league in 2020. Keeping Joe Burrow upright has to be their No. 1 priority moving forward.
The Bengals take a step toward protecting Burrow in ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay's first mock of the season. He has Cincinnati taking Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater.
"Just four teams allowed more sacks than Cincinnati this season, not something you want to see right after drafting a franchise quarterback at No. 1 overall," McShay wrote. "Jonah Williams, a 2019 first-round tackle, is the only entrenched starter on the offensive line at the moment, and with Joe Burrow returning from a bad knee injury, protection will be even more important in 2021. A 2020 opt-out, Slater projects best as an interior lineman—possibly at center—but he also has experience at both left and right tackle. With Penei Sewell gone, Slater is the top offensive lineman on my board here and will help fix a woeful unit with growing importance to the future success of this Bengals team. But also watch for the Bengals to try to move up to get Sewell.
If the Bengals think Slater is a guard or a center, then they should just sign Joe Thuney or Brandon Scherff in free agency. Taking a guard with the No. 5 overall pick only makes sense if Slater is the next Quenton Nelson.
If they think Slater can be the right tackle of the future and haven't addressed the issue in free agency, then there's a good possibility McShay's first mock could be accurate.
The Bengals don't trade up in the draft. Mel Kiper Jr. thinks they'll consider moving up to get Sewell, but why waste the draft capital when they could sign a top tackle in free agency?
Spending money is the key. If they don't go out and get proven offensive linemen in free agency, then there's a good chance they have to overpay in a trade or reach on a guy like Slater, who could potentially be available later in the first round.
McShay has Trevor Lawrence, Penei Sewell, DeVonta Smith and Zach Wilson being drafted with picks 1-4, respectively.
That means the Bengals could reunite Burrow with star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. They could also move down and snag Florida tight end Kyle Pitts or a tackle like Slater.
Spending money in the trenches will give the Bengals flexibility entering the draft, which is exactly what they need so they can take the best player, instead of reaching to fill a hole.
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