Bengals sign defensive tackle, address biggest need

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

While the Cincinnati Bengals were making moves at other positions, some of the top defensive tackles on the free agent market were flying off the board.

On Wednesday night, they filled their biggest hole, agreeing to terms on a two-year, $26 million deal to sign former Houston Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler was the first to report the contract was nearing finalization.

Now, the top priority can shift to replacing right tackle Jonah Williams, who on Wednesday agreed to a two-year, $30 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals, according to reports. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported his deal includes $19 million guaranteed.

Cincinnati was facing a tough decision with defensive tackle DJ Reader hitting free agency while rehabbing a torn quadriceps tendon he had surgically repaired in December.

The move to potentially replace Reader with Rankins is somewhat unexpected for a Bengals organization that has tried to go younger with its free agent signings. Rankins will turn 30 on April 2 and is entering his ninth NFL season. Reader fits into that same age and experience category, and while Rankins signing doesn’t rule out his return, it makes it unlikely.

Rankins brings a boost to the interior pass rush, having recorded six sacks in 15 starts last year, while also registering 10 quarterback hits, 37 tackles, nine tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Pro Football Focus gave him a 64.2 defensive grade last year, including a career-best pass rushing grade of 76.7. However, he doesn’t have the run-stopping pedigree of Reader, another No. 98-wearing defensive tackle the Bengals plucked from Houston in 2020.

The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Rankins originally was a 12th overall pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2016. He spent five years with the Saints, then moved on to the New York Jets for the 2021 and 2022 season before joining the Texans last year.

Rankins has appeared in 109 career games with 66 starts, recording 43 tackles for loss, 68 quarterback hits, 29.5 sacks, fived forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

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