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!
— Ken Broo (@kenbroo) March 9, 2017
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.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) March 10, 2017
The Bengals had to bid high on Kirkpatrick to keep from losing him to the Steelers or Titans, according to Bengals.com.
But the offensive line losses don’t bode well for a team that went 6-9-1 last season. There are high draft choices left but little experience.
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 Dec. 2016 when questions of Whitworth's fate arose, Whitworth said he wanted to stay with the Bengals, so long as he remained left tackle. Whitworth told WCPO sports reporter Keenan Singleton that he would go elsewhere if the Bengals plan to move him to guard or right tackle.
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.
Days later, he clarified.
"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.
Last season, Whitworth was upset for a very different reason: He was shown naked on live television.
In a post-game locker room interview, NFL Network made a blunder and interviewed Adam Jones standing in front of a sea of naked and nearly-naked men.
Whitworth took to Twitter to voice concern to the commissioner and league, but his wife, Melissa, said she found the situation humorous. NFL Network quickly apologized and the situation blew over.
Andrew and Melissa have four children.
Big Whit, best LT in the game easily, Congrats
— Cedric Ogbuehi (@Nuff_ced70) March 9, 2017
Framework of Andrew Whitworth deal between Rams and @_SportsTrust: 3 years, $36M, $15M guar, including $2.5M guar in Year 2.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2017
@awhitworth77 want to say thank you brother. Always giving me words of courage, when I needed. Well earned!
— DeShawn Williams (@BigNuk_99) March 9, 2017
Good one. They desperately need help outside and Whitworth is a technique monster. https://t.co/NFdfsAhiBN
— Doug Farrar (@BR_DougFarrar) March 9, 2017
No disrespect to Andrew Whitworth at all, hell of a player.. BUT $36 million deal for a 35 year old lineman? Good for him!!!
— Zack Young (@Z4CKYOUNG) March 9, 2017
— Tony Black (@KREMTony) March 9, 2017
Every Bengals fan right now. pic.twitter.com/KD49RVeRai
— Cincy Jungle (@CincyJungle) March 9, 2017