What a difference two years makes. In 2015, Jamaal appeared to be heading toward another Pro Bowl caliber year, until a torn ACL ended his season. During that season, the Bengals’ players saluted Charles as one of the best running backs in the league. Wallace Gilberry even went as far as to compare Charles to Olympian Usain Bolt. Charles was scheduled to bounce back this past season, but was unable to due to knee surgery complications. As a result, Charles had to have another surgery to fix his issues. On February 28, 2017, the Chiefs decided to release Jamaal Charles after nine seasons due to his high cap number in 2018. This has caused some to question whether or not the Bengals should pursue Jamaal Charles as a free agent. Although intriguing, I don’t expect the Bengals will for several reasons: his health, the NFL draft running back class and roster flexibility.
The Bengals are coming off of an injury-riddled year for the entire running back position. Jeremy Hill played the majority of the season hurt, Cedric Peerman was hurt and returned from I.R., Giovani Bernard tore his ACL and even Rex Burkhead had some nicks and bruises. Although Charles is talented, his health has deteriorated over the past two seasons. With Giovani Bernard not expected to return immediately next season, bringing in another running back with knee issues would not provide the Bengals with great insurance at the position. Unless Charles can prove he is healthy at 30 years old, the Bengals will more than likely pass on him.
The upcoming NFL draft has one of its the most talented running back classes in recent history. This is another factor that could keep Charles out of the Bengals’ crosshairs. With prospects like Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara, the Bengals may favor a younger back from the draft. The fact that a draft pick will earn considerably less money than Charles and that the Bengals have eleven picks at their disposal will also play a factor. Duke Tobin has already come out and said the Bengals will draft a running back at some point in the draft.
The last issue would be roster fleixibility. The Bengals are expected to enter the 2017 season with Jeremy Hill as their starter and Giovani Bernard on the PUP list. Rex Burkhead could transition out of Cincinnati via free agency and Cedric Peerman will likely return. A rookie running back would also be expected to be in the mix as well. Even with Gio possibly out for an extended period, there wouldn’t be much room for Charles in a crowded backfield. With all factors being considered, I think Jamaal Charles in stripes would be a stretch at this point.