Atkins is approaching his 33rd birthday, and his production has declined over the past two seasons, most noticeably in 2020 when he was limited by a shoulder injury. The eight-time Pro Bowler was on contract through 2023 but his release frees up $9 million in salary cap space.
It also cleared a spot for 26-year-old Ogunjobi to sign. The former Browns defensive tackle fills the three-technique role next to D.J. Reader.
“I am just going to put this out there, I have nothing but respect for Geno,” Ogunjobi said in his introductory press conference Friday. “That’s like, my mentor, my big brother. He’s helped me tremendously in my career. I have nothing but respect for Geno. … When I say he’s my mentor, he’s like, my mentor. I would send him film, my pass rushes, everything I was working on. He helped me a lot. We trained together my rookie and second year. He was a big part of my development as a player so I have nothing but respect and love for him.”
The Bengals hit on their biggest needs this week, addressing the rush and cover on defense and adding a veteran presence on the offensive line to protect Joe Burrow.
Cincinnati already had agreed to terms with Ogunjobi, Hilton, Awuzie and Hendrickson earlier this week, but Riley needed a little more convincing with a visit. The group of free agents went to dinner at The Precinct on Thursday with quarterback Joe Burrow, Taylor and others, and Reiff was sold but needed to complete the business side of the deal Friday morning before agreeing to sign. Jeff Ruby’s “Steak Burrow” was quite the recruiting pitch, and so was Burrow himself.
“I’m super excited,” Reiff said. “We went out to eat with him last night, had a good steak. I went away from eating that steak, and I was like I want to block for this guy. I’ve seen him on the film, but he’s even better off the field.”
Reiff, who signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal, said he was told he will play right tackle, and Taylor confirmed Jonah Williams is set to remain at left tackle.
Before Reiff climbed on board, it seemed the Bengals were spending all their energy on the defense for a second straight year in free agency., but Taylor said the first five free agent additions fit right in the plan. Hilton, the former Steelers slot corner, fills the role Mackensie Alexander played in 2020, and Awuzie, who spent his first four NFL seasons with Dallas, replaces Will Jackson at outside corner.
Hendrickson swaps into the defensive end spot vacated by Carl Lawson’s departure to the New York Jets.
“I think we’ve done well for ourselves, the way that it’s all played out,” Taylor said. “Free agency is a long week. It’s a long two weeks. But I’m really encouraged by the guys we’ve added to the mix. They’re exactly the pieces that we had in mind adding. Really targeted these guys. For them to all work out has been really exciting for our staff and our organization.”