There are only six teams in the NFL right now with fewer than 90 rostered players, per OverTheCap.com. The Cincinnati Bengals are one those teams, with just one roster spot available for the remainder of the offseason.
It could’ve been filled during the peak of free agency. It could’ve been filled after the NFL Draft during college free agency. Instead, the Bengals stopped one short of filling out a completely full football team.
The spot doesn’t have to be filled by any means, but if it were, free agent offensive lineman Dalton Risner would be the ideal signing.
The fact that Risner remains available is a wonder. A fifth-year player in 2023, Risner spent four quality seasons with the Denver Broncos. He played and started 62 games for the Broncos, getting the nod right from the beginning of his career.
A collegiate left tackle, Risner made the switch to left guard in the NFL and has exclusively played that position. As it happens, that’s the spot on the Bengals’ o-line that doesn’t have a true backup.
But it’s not just a lack of depth at the position that’s notable. The team is expected to start Cordell Volson there for a second straight season. Volson was adequate for a fourth-round rookie, but even marginal improvement for him would leave plenty of room to upgrade should an opportunity present itself.
Risner is far from a world beater at the position, but he’s objectively a better and more experienced player. His pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus never dropped below 69 for a season in Denver, and he’s been penalized just six times while recording 3,773 snaps in his career thus far.
For comparison, Volson graded out at 52.7 in pass blocking and was flagged seven times in his rookie season.
The Bengals already added one lineman they coveted in the 2019 draft by signing Cody Ford. Rumors had Risner as one of the guys the Bengals targeted with their second-round pick before the Denver Broncos traded up for him just one spot in front of them.
So why hasn’t a deal come together for Risner and any would-be interested club? It likely has to do with timing. Risner may not have been brought back by his original team this offseason following a coaching change, but he’d still be an asset for a pass heavy team. The NFL is also never going to not need starting caliber blockers as well.
Risner could sign right now with the Bengals and compete for a starting job, or he could bide his time and wait to see if an opening occurs before the season begins. Training camp injuries are inevitable, and when a team needs a left guard, he’ll likely be at the top of the list.
If that’s not the case, and the NFL doesn’t see the 27-year old as a clear cut starter anymore, than there’s no reason why he couldn’t fill out the Bengals’ roster and completely solidify the offensive line.
A unit that has either Risner as its fifth-best starter is a unit worthy of praise. And if Volson beats him out during camp, then that’s indicative of his own growth as a player in year two.
A win-win proposition in late May is rare. The Bengals should at least gauge the waters before another contender does the same.