CINCINNATI — The Bengals desperately need to improve their offensive line this offseason. They had arguably the worst guard play in the NFL in 2020 and starting center Trey Hopkins is working his way back from a torn ACL.
Plenty of fans and analysts believe Patriots guard Joe Thuney would be a perfect fit in Cincinnati.
The 28-year-old is clearly the top interior offensive lineman on the free agent market. He's expected to reset the market at guard and could be the first player at his position to command $15 million per season in NFL history.
Thuney allowed just two sacks and two quarterback hits in 2020, finishing with a 74.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
He went to Alter High School, which is about an hour from downtown Cincinnati. Bringing the Ohio native back to his home state to protect Joe Burrow is a popular storyline among Bengals fans, but would it be smart from a football standpoint?
The Giants released Kevin Zeitler on Wednesday. The Raiders are expected to part ways with Gabe Jackson and there's a chance the Jaguars do the same with Andrew Norwell.
The Bengals will easily be able to upgrade at guard in free agency. Should they overspend on Thuney, when they can sign an above average guard or two for much less money?
If the Bengals pass on Thuney, but decide to upgrade the interior of their O-line, then Packers center Corey Linsley might be their best option. The 30-year-old allowed just four pressures and one sack in 2020 according to PFF, finishing with a 89.9 overall grade.
Linsley is expected to command big money in free agency, but he'll still make less than Thuney.
Former NFL agent and CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry believes Linsley will sign a four-year, $51 million contract ($12.75 million per year) with $30 million guaranteed.
A deal like that would make Linsley one of the NFL's highest-paid centers. It would also help fix a spot that is in flux due to Hopkins' injury.
Signing Linsley and a veteran guard like Zeitler would likely cost just a few million more than signing Thuney alone.
Value is important and the Bengals have to maximize their assets this offseason if they're going to turn things around in 2021.
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