But that might not be the case moving forward.
“Cincinnati’s been wonderful and it’s been something that I enjoyed thoroughly. I loved the challenge and the opportunity and I still love it,” Whitworth told SiriusXM NFL Radio this week, via ESPN.com. “I’ve enjoyed our adventure together and I hope it continues, but for me, it’s just been one of those things. Being a mentor and a leader, I’ve always urged guys if you’re ever allowed to be a free agent to take advantage of that opportunity.”
He added: “I love Cincinnati and I want to be there. I’m pretty positive that things will work out in a way that I’ll be there again, but I want to take advantage of the opportunity of being free and listen to what other people have to say. I think that’s the right way to do it.”
The notoriously thrifty Bengals could already be losing Kevin Zeitler in free agency, so it would be in their best interest to lock up the 35-year-old to a career-ending deal. Whitworth has been one of the league’s premier tackles for some time, but has been getting the fair amount of praise only recently. His three Pro Bowls were in 2012, 2015 and 2016.
While Whitworth mentioned staying put, there’s a chance he would entertain a contender. His team’s former defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, is a few good offensive linemen away from winning the NFC North with the Vikings. Vance Joseph, another apple off the Marvin Lewis tree, also has a very good setup and will be in need of veteran tackle help in Denver. It’s been difficult to see the slow trickle of talent leaving the Bengals over the years but encouraging that they wanted to hold onto the likes of A.J. Green and Gio Bernard.
Back in 2015, the club drafted offensive tackles in the first and second round and took a guard in 2016. Only one of them, Cedric Ogbuehi, has been a major contributor so far. If the plan was drafting Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher with the intention of one day replacing Whitworth, then Cincinnati might feel differently than the fans who don’t want to see a stellar offensive lineman leave the building.