Despite heavy roster churn, the linebacking room for the Cincinnati Bengals is a clear weak point. For the second consecutive off-season, the team didn’t invest heavily in one of their shallowest position groups. Currently, Jordan Hicks, a Cincinnati-native and Arizona Cardinals veteran, is seen as a trade or cut candidate. If the Bengals are serious about bolstering their defense in 2021, it’s a move worth making. After all, this is a team needing to turn a major corner this season. For a coaching staff on the hot seat, adding a veteran on defense should be a welcome move across the board.
Cincinnati Bengals Should Pursue a Jordan Hicks Trade
Since the days of Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga, the Cincinnati Bengals have struggled to field a competent linebacking group. In 2021, the position group is considered to be one of the league’s worst and is a clear liability in their defense. In fact, Pro Football Focus considers the group the second-worst in the league. Certainly, there’s no reason to believe this group will make a major leap heading into this season. Their most aggressive move at the position this off-season was claiming second-year, undrafted free agent Joe Bachie on the waiver wire.
Enter Jordan Hicks, a veteran linebacker who’s seemingly running out of time with the Arizona Cardinals. Sure, the 29-year-old linebacker struggled in 2020, but for the Bengals, that might not be such a concern. Currently, he’d be the oldest linebacker in the group by three years. The next oldest on their roster? The 26-year-old Jordan Evans, who played just 62 plays on defense last season and is considered a special teams asset. Meanwhile, Hicks brings 72 career starts at linebacker to the table. Further, he brings the experience of his Super Bowl championship with the Philadelphia Eagles. For a team that needs to learn how to win big games, that history is an important factor.
Even With Young Linebackers Needing Professional Reps, Hicks Brings Needed Experience
This season, the Cincinnati Bengals are expected to pair the second-year Logan Wilson and third-year Germaine Pratt group as starting linebackers. Without a doubt, there’s some logic to letting the young players run. In particular, Wilson seems to have a bright future after displaying some impressive playmaking during his rookie season. Especially as the season progressed, Wilson seemed to find his groove a the professional level. Still, the team certainly benefited from the presence of Josh Bynes in 2020. Even though Bynes was certainly lacking his prior mobility, his position mates held high praise for his leadership.
Seemingly, Bynes won’t be back in 2021, and with Hicks being almost three years younger, the fit could last longer. Plus, Hicks and Bynes provided about equal value to their teams according to Pro Football Focus’s grading. Last season, Hicks earned a 50.4 grade and 62.6 coverage grade. Bynes earned a 52.6 grade with a 60.9 coverage grade. In the grand scheme, those are marginal differences, which could be largely due to snap count and defensive systems. Hicks played 1,024 snaps accounting for 92% of Arizona’s reps; Bynes played 760 snaps accounting for 72% of snaps. Plus, the height of Hicks’s career is certainly more impressive. Three of his seven seasons resulted in Pro Football Focus grades of 79.7 or better. Bynes has just one season with an 80.0 mark. Targeting a younger and higher-ceiling linebacker seems logical for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Cost of Adding Jordan Hicks to the Cincinnati Bengals
While they could wait for Hicks to hit the free agency block, it shouldn’t take much to acquire Hicks from the Cardinals. Potentially, sending a sixth-round pick in 2022 or 2023 could be enough to pry the linebacker from the desert. Plus, the cash situation also isn’t too big of a deal. Sure, he carries a $6 million cap hit in 2021 but has an out in his contract after the season for just $3 million. Currently, the Cincinnati Bengals have $17.4 million in effective cap space, according to Over the Cap. The Hicks cap hit would be nominal in the grand scheme.
As it stands, the Cincinnati Bengals don’t look great at the linebacker position. Frankly, it could be the group that holds them back from having a solid defense in 2021. Adding Hicks is far from a perfect solution, but it would almost certainly help. The team needs to add some depth to that group before camp and Hicks brings that to the table. While it might take moving a late-round draft asset, it could greatly help the group this season. Sure, they could bet on a major leap from their young players, but veteran leadership brings an added level of value.
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