Veteran safety returning to Bengals

Credit: Darron Cummings

Credit: Darron Cummings

Vonn Bell is returning to the Cincinnati Bengals, and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s “dark” days are now behind him.

The Bengals are signing Bell to a one-year, fully guaranteed $6 million deal, on which the Carolina Panthers will be paying all but the league minimum amount. Bell’s agent David Canter announced the agreement of terms on social media.

Cincinnati had watched Bell and free safety Jessie Bates walk in free agency last year, just weeks after Anarumo said it would be a “dark day” if the team ever lost both of those veteran safeties at the same time.

Bell had signed a three-year, $22 million contract with the Panthers last March, but Carolina released him Wednesday. When Bell left Cincinnati last year, the Bengals received a sixth-round 2024 compensatory draft pick indirectly from that move. Now they have that pick to use in the April draft and they get Bell back while Carolina pays $4.79 million of his $6 million base salary that he was owed this year.

The Bengals pick up the remaining $1.21 million of that tab.

Bell was a fixture in Anarumo’s defense, as a captain and leader on the field. He originally came to Cincinnati in 2020 after spending his first four seasons with New Orleans, as the Saints’ second round pick in 2016 out of Ohio State.

The 29-year-old started 13 games last year in Carolina and finished with 69 tackles and one interception, while posting his lowest Pro Football Focus defensive grade (63.9) since 2019, his last season with the Saints.

Cincinnati struggled with communication among a cast of young players on defense last year, contributing to the team holding the worst explosive play rate allowed in the NFL. About 12.1 percent of plays against the Bengals ended up as an explosive.

Bell will look to help shore up the defense. He had four interceptions, 77 tackles, two forced fumbles, four quarterback hits and four tackles for loss in his last season with the Bengals in 2022.

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