After being dormant for a week, the Cincinnati Bengals reappeared in the free agency market by signing veteran cornerback Sidney Jones.
Defensive back depth is a universal need for all NFL teams, and the Bengals are no exception. “I don’t think that you can ever have enough DBs that can come in and compete in those depth roles,” said head coach Zac Taylor at the AFC coaches breakfast Monday morning.
For cornerback Eli Apple, it’s not the best news he could’ve hoped for.
Apple, a first-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft, has spent the past two seasons with the Bengals.
He parlayed a one-year, $1.2 million deal in 2021 into a $3.5 million deal in 2022 and played significantly more than expected in both years.
He signed on as a depth piece in 2021 behind projected starters Trae Waynes and Chidobe Awuzie.
When Waynes couldn’t get on the field, Apple stepped up as the starter and put together arguably the best season of his fascinating career.
What Apple has produced has always been more than what was expected out of him, for both the right and wrong reasons.
Despite the negative perception of his play, Apple has been a decent starter for the Bengals. Several of his best games in Cincinnati featured opposing quarterbacks avoiding receivers in his coverage.
When he returned to the field as a starter for the final 11 games of the Bengals’ 2022 season, he was 29th out of 55 starters in terms of coverage grade from Pro Football Focus.
That’s about as league average as you can get for an extended period of time while the team was doing nothing but winning.
But it’s been Apple’s online antics and burned bridges from past stints that have defined his career.
It’s a bit early to say whether or not this side of his personality cost him another year with the Bengals, but the club opting for another 27-year old veteran at the position instead of him isn’t ideal from his prspective.
Things change rapidly in the NFL, and Apple knows this better than most players. He wasn’t supposed to have started games for the orange and black during this fantastic two-year stretch, but circumstances have allowed him to put out the best tape of his career.
Perhaps that will allow him to return to the Queen City should further injuries occur down the line.
For now, the Bengals appear to be moving forward without him.
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