The Bengals will need help from two players who had minimal playing time last year.
The Cincinnati Bengals had a very productive free agency in 2020, hauling Trae Waynes and D.J. Reader among others.
In a new turn of events, the front office did not skimp out on free agency, and made both Waynes and Reader two of the top-10 in their respective positions in salary. Over the next four years, the Bengals could be paying $95 million just to Waynes and Reader alone.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see much impact from either. Waynes was injured in training camp and missed the entire 2020 season. Reader did get to play in a few games, but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5.
Ben Linsey of ESPN put together a list of strengths, weaknesses, and x-factors for all 32 teams. He picked two x-factors for the Bengals: Waynes and Reader.
Cincinnati handed out sizable offseason contracts to both D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes last offseason. The two combined for 259 defensive snaps (all by Reader) due to injury. Reader took a clear step forward in his career with Houston in 2019 (85.4 PFF grade), and Waynes earned overall grades of at least 66.0 in each of his final three seasons with the Vikings — a solid mark at the cornerback position. Healthy returns for those two veterans should bring a steadying presence to this defense.
When Reader was healthy, he was the best defensive lineman on the team. Having Reader, alongside Larry Ogunjobi and Trey Hendrickson, will be huge for the Bengals.
Having Waynes in the secondary will be key for Lou Anarumo and the defense. Between Waynes, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton, all three of the Bengals starting cornerbacks will take their first snaps in black and orange during the season opener.
Not to mention that Waynes and Reader are the two biggest cap hits for the Bengals in 2021, so the organization will definitely want to see them succeed.