This offseason represented a chance for a fresh start for both Trae Waynes and the Cincinnati Bengals. The former wrapped up a five-year career with the Minnesota Vikings that produced just satisfactory results. The latter needed a complete makeover after enduring an ugly 2-14 season.
By bringing in Waynes to boost their secondary, the Bengals seemingly made a massive step forward. But on Monday, Cinncinati suffered a brutal injury blow that will force the franchise to find a new starting cornerback. And it just so happens a ready-made replacement already exists on the market.
Trae Waynes joined the Bengals as a high-priced free agent
A star at Michigan State, Trae Waynes entered the 2015 NFL draft as one of the top cornerback prospects. The 6-foot, 190-pounder did not have to wait long to hear his name called. The Vikings snagged Waynes with the 11th overall pick. However, he provided a poor initial return on Minnesota’s investment.
Waynes started just nine games during his first two NFL seasons. He finally emerged as a full-time starter in 2017 when he recorded 11 passes defended and two interceptions. In each of the last two seasons, Waynes recorded just a single interception and never became a lockdown cover artist. Ultimately, Vikings fans probably expected more from the 2015 first-round pick.
Still, with 53 starts for a perennial playoff contender on his resume, Waynes hit free agency with an opportunity to score a life-changing contract. On March 17, the Bengals surprised many by breaking the bank to secure his services. Cincinnati signed the free-agent corner to a three-year, $42 million deal. Waynes will collect $20 million in the first year of the deal alone—which stings even worse in light of Monday’s news.
Bengals suffer brutal injury blow
After finishing 25th in points allowed in 2019, the Bengals needed to make upgrades on defense. Trae Waynes gave the organization a battle-tested defensive back who could provide veteran leadership for a young team. Expected to open the season as the team’s starting nickel corner, Waynes threw a wrench in that plan.
On Monday, Ian Rapoport reported that Cincinnati’s high-priced free-agent addition underwent surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. Waynes will miss a significant portion of the 2020 season. While Rapoport did acknowledge that the Bengals CB could make a return at some point, that does little to ease the pain of losing a projected starter.
While Cinncinati also signed former Vikings corner Mackensie Alexander this offseason, he already looked like the favorite to start opposite William Jackson III. Losing Waynes means the Bengals must search for a capable slot corner. Luckily for them, a viable solution exists on the free-agent market.
Free-agent CB Logan Ryan could replace Waynes
If the Bengals want to find a ready-made replacement for Trae Waynes, they do not have to search wide and far. In fact, you could argue that Cincinnati could land an upgrade on the injured corner by signing Logan Ryan. The 29-year-old just wrapped up a solid three-year run in Tennessee where he quietly ranked as one of the NFL’s top defensive backs in 2019.
Of course, Ryan also brings championship experience. He entered the NFL as a third-round pick by the New England Patriots. Ryan developed into a starter and played a key role in helping New England capture its fifth Super Bowl title.
Tipping the scales at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Ryan does not wow anyone with his size. He also does not boast elite speed. However, the physical veteran posted a ridiculous 113 total tackles in 2019—which topped all cornerbacks by a laughably wide margin. Chicago’s Kyle Fuller and Seattle’s Tre Flowers tied for second with 82 total tackles. Ryan also snagged four interceptions and recorded 4.5 sacks in his final year in Tennessee.
Despite a rock-solid resume, Ryan has yet to find a new NFL home. The veteran defender has even tried to pitch himself as a safety option for teams. Ultimately, though, he would be an ideal candidate to step in for Waynes as the Bengals’ slot corner. Plus, he could help at safety in a pinch if the need arises.
But after investing such a large chunk of money on Waynes, will the typically-frugal Bengals shell out even more to find his replacement? Cincinnati could go the cheap route and turn toward 2018 fifth-round pick Darius Philips. The 25-year-old enters the 2020 NFL season with just 341 defensive snaps to his name. Ryan, on the other hand, has accrued nearly 6,000, plus 15 games of playoff experience.
Let’s see if the Bengals pounce on Logan Ryan before another NFL team plucks him off the market. If not, Cincinnati will have to find another way to replace Trae Waynes.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.