CINCINNATI – You might say the Bengals got sacked on the first day of free agency Thursday.
The team lost its two most reliable starters on the offensive line to big-money Deals of a Lifetime while they chose to spend $50 million-plus to re-sign cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick instead.
Guard Kevin Zeitler agreed to join the Browns in a five-year, $60 million deal that includes $31.5 million guaranteed, according to ESPN. That makes Zeitler the ... highest ... paid ... guard ... in ... NFL ... history.
Tackle and team captain Andrew Whitworth is off to L.A. and the Rams in a three-year deal worth $36 million, $15 million guaranteed, ESPN reported.
Memo to Andy Dalton: LOOK OUT! and GOOD LUCK!
$31 million guaranteed for Zeitler on a $60 mil deal with #browns. Hard to believe any guard is with that @WCPO
The Bengals, who also re-signed WR Brandon LaFell to a two-year contract, weren't going to get into a bidding war for their two offensive linemen. They must have felt more pressing needs at cornerback, especially with Adam Jones possibly facing another season-long suspension, and at wide receiver, where they came up short last season after losing Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency.
Guard Clint Boling, entering his seventh year, is the granddaddy of the group. The only other returning full-time starter is center Russ Bodine (fourth year). Others are tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher (third year) and center/guard T.J. Johnson (fourth year).
Unless they sign or draft a lineman or two, the Bengals will go into camp counting on Ogbuehi or Fisher (first- and second-round picks in 2015) to start at the tackles and on Johnson to step in for Zeitler.
The Bengals have enough money under the cap to make one or two more medium signings, according to Geoff Hobson at Bengals.com.
Johnson, a restricted free agent, can negotiate with other teams, but the Bengals can keep him by matching any offer. He filled in last year because of injuries and made his first career start at left guard in the final game.
There’s a chance the Bengals will re-sign 33-year-old tackle Eric Winston, if only to be scoutmaster.
Losing Whitworth is a blow. The three-time Pro Bowler and asserted himself as a team leader, particularly over the past three seasons.
In 2015, after the NFL draft, Whitworth worried some Bengals fans when he said in interviews and via Twitter that he was frustrated with the Bengals' front office and their silence about his future with the team. The Bengals used their first two draft picks of 2015 on Ogbuehi and Fisher.
"I think they know that I love this place and I want to be here, and they know what I am to this organization and I know what they are to me," Whitworth said. "They've been great to me and my family. So there's nothing but mutual appreciation there, there's no doubt about that.
"Bottom line is, I love this place, I won't play anywhere else. I'll never put on another uniform other than a Cincinnati Bengal uniform," Whitworth said.