CINCINNATI -- Way back in January when the Cincinnati Bengals' 2014 season ended with an uninspiring playoff loss at Indianapolis, it appeared they were about to enter into a make-or-break season.
More than a dozen of their key starters in all three phases were heading into contract years, and it appeared unlikely that many of them would be re-signed. At the time, it appeared the Bengals' window of success -- one that began after an organizational retooling following a disastrous four-win 2010 season -- was soon going to close. After 2015, very little looked guaranteed in the way of playoff runs. Many people outside of Paul Brown Stadium believed that; fans did and so did reporters.
But apparently the people inside the building don't see it that way.
When the Bengals signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth early Saturday morning to a one-year contract extension that will pay him $9 million through 2016, they made it clear they don't see their window of opportunity closing. In fact, this extension was a sign they believe their window of success will continue to stay open ... even if only for another 12 months longer.
Sure, Whitworth's extension is only good for an additional year, and the 33-year-old could find himself next fall trying to earn another short-term deal. But for the time being, he remains in stripes, continuing to anchor what has been in recent years one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals this season are a top-5 team when it comes to the percentage of times their offense controls the line of scrimmage.
It's an offensive line that also re-signed another key lineman this year, too. A free agent in March, left guard Clint Boling fielded offers from other teams before signing a five-year, $26 million deal with the team that drafted him five years ago. With Boling and Whitworth in stripes through next season, the Bengals still have the left side of their offensive line in place for this season and one more. Receiver A.J. Green's four-year contract extension this month also allowed Cincinnati to affirm its commitment to keeping another key piece of its offense.
With Whitworth, Boling, Green and quarterback Andy Dalton re-signed to a multi-year deal last year, Cincinnati maintains its offensive core. And in May, the Bengals drafted two offensive tackles in the first two rounds, likely in hopes of having both eventually take over for Whitworth and soon-to-be-free-agent right tackle Andre Smith.
As for Whitworth's play, it's been 24 games since he has allowed a sack. In 2014, he gave up just 10 quarterback pressures, the lowest figure for a yearlong starter, per Pro Football Focus. He hasn't only been good since returning from knee surgery in 2013 -- he's been very good. Pro Bowl voters might not know his value (he has made just one Pro Bowl appearance), but the people who pull the strings in Cincinnati do.
Not only has Whitworth been one of their best contributors on the field, he also has been one of their most respected leaders off it. Until he "passed the baton" of leadership to quarterback Andy Dalton this past offseason season, Whitworth's voice was for years the one that primarily resonated among the Bengals' offensive players.
In signing him for what could be the final deal of his standout career, the Bengals made it known they expect Whitworth to help them keep getting back to the postseason.