Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Credit: Jeffrey Beall (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Andrew_Whitworth_2018.JPG)
“It was really special,” said Andrew Whitworth when asked to reflect on his tenure in Cincinnati in an interview on Cincinnati Bengals Talk. Though both Andrew and Melissa hail from Louisiana, Cincinnati became their adopted home.
“We just enjoyed how intimate and small that was,” Whitworth would say about his experience in the Queen City, “We always just loved being there and living there and the people we lived with there.”
Whitworth, who manned the Bengals’ left tackle position from 2009 - 2016, is one of the greatest players in Bengals history. After finishing his undergraduate career at LSU, Whitworth would be selected by the Bengals in the 2nd Round (55th overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft. Despite coming into the NFL as a guard, Whitworth continued to develop until then-Bengals’ coach Marvin Lewis had no choice but to insert him at left tackle. From there, Whitworth would continue to shine, becoming one of the premier players at the position in the NFL.
During his tenure with Cincinnati, Whitworth became one of the most respected players not just in the Bengals’ locker room, but around the NFL. He was named an All-Pro twice as a Bengal and was voted as the 67th best player in the NFL by his peers in 2016. Besides his on-field accomplishments, Whitworth was also a staple in the Cincinnati community, and his charity Big Whit 77 Foundation helped raise money for several causes, including his Open Arm program, which raises money for families going through the adoption process and Whit’s Warriors, which provides scholarships for students who excel in leadership.
Despite his many accolades, sterling on-field performance and flawless reputation, by 2015 the Bengals were looking to move on from their dominant left tackle. Going into that offseason, Whitworth, who would turn 34 that season, dared the Bengals to select his replacement, saying in an interview, “Mess up and draft somebody at my position because you are going to sit around and watch him sit the bench.” The Bengals wouldn’t heed his warning and would go on to select tackle Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round. Not to be outdone, the Bengals would also select another tackle, Oregon’s Jake Fisher, in the second round.
This move, as most Bengals’ fans could tell you, was a huge mistake. Who can forget then-Bengals’ offensive line coach Paul Alexander exclaiming, “I freaking love him,” when asked about Ogbuehi. That love was not destined to last. Alexander would be fired in 2017 and Ogbuehi and Fisher would only last four seasons each with Cincinnati.
The writing was now on the wall. The Bengals were making preparations for their outstanding left tackle to move on. But it wouldn’t happen immediately. Whitworth would continue performing admirably for the Bengals through the 2016 season, continuing to man his position with aplomb.
When the 2017 offseason began, Whitworth, who’s contract with Cincinnati had expired, began fielding offers from teams around the NFL. Cincinnati’s offer came in much lower than he and Melissa had expected, but neither was much interested in uprooting their family. Cincinnati was still the preferred destination. Then came the Los Angeles Rams.
“I really don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to finish my career in Cincinnati, but their offer isn’t even competitive with the others,” Whitworth is supposed to have said to his agent during contract negotiations with the Bengals. The Bengals, despite being made aware of the Rams’ offer, wouldn’t budge off their number. Whitworth would then sign a three-year, $36 million-dollar deal with the Rams, officially ending his tenure in Cincinnati.
With Whitworth gone, Cincinnati tried to replace him with Ogbuehi, but that failed miserably. Ogbuehi, for his part, is currently a free agent after most recently being released from the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad during the 2021 season. Jake Fisher, the other tackle selected by the Bengals in 2016, struggled to the point that he tried converting to tight end to save his career.
Whitworth, however, has continued to play left tackle at a high level for the Rams since he signed with the team. He was named a first-team All-Pro in 2017 for the second time in his career and helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl. He also continued his charitable work in Los Angeles, being named the NFL Players’ Associations’ Alan Page MVP, a yearly award that recognizes a player who goes above and beyond in service to his hometown and team city. In particular, Andrew and Melissa were recognized for their work in Ventura County, California. The Whitworth’s donated a game check and auctioned a game jersey to raise money for victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting and those affected by wildfires.
Now, Whitworth will be preparing to face his former team in Super Bowl LVI. But the truth is, Whitworth should be on this Bengals team, preparing to face the Rams. The Bengals’ decision to let Whitworth go was a catalyst that set the Bengals back tremendously. They went from perennial playoff team to never winning more than seven games up until this season. And the worst part? All of this was incredibly predictable.
No one, ever, at any time, expected Ogbuehi to fill Whitworth’s shoes. Paul Alexander may have loved him, but after four years, the Bengals had moved on from their young left tackle and their offensive line coach. The Bengals have been trying to fix their offensive line ever since. They are still having issues, even now, as they prepare for the Super Bowl.
Had the Bengals retained Whitworth, so many offensive line issues could have been avoided. The entire Bobby Hart-experiment could have been avoided. Joe Burrow’s knee might have remained surgery-free.
Of course, Whitworth might have been such a great player that the Bengals might never have been in position to select Burrow in the first place. The Bengals took a gamble that their scouting and player development track record were strong enough to withstand Whitworth’s departure. That line of thinking didn’t work out. But considering both Whitworth and the Bengals have reached the Super Bowl in 2022, things worked out in the end for both teams.
Andrew Whitworth will always be remembered as a consummate Bengal, a player who transcended the team’s unfortunate history to become one of the most respected and dominant individuals in the sport. While things didn’t come to the conclusion that he and many Bengals’ fans wanted, Whitworth remains a Bengal for life. Paul Alexander’s words ring true, even if they were spoken about a different left tackle: “I freaking love him.” Cincinnati loves you Big Whit.