Bengals Trade Pitch Targets Former $84 Million All-Pro

The Cincinnati Bengals’ leadership council made up of president/acting general manager Mike Brown, head coach Zac Taylor and director of player personnel Duke Tobin enters a pivotal offseason for their franchise.


Over the Cap projects nearly $60 million in available cap space this spring, while long-term decisions regarding wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins loom both in 2024 and beyond. The immediate question — will the Bengals retain Higgins? And if they elect to tag-and-trade the star wideout, what will the money be spent on instead?


If Cincy prefers to bolster the defense, one “logical” trade option was suggested by Bleacher Report writer Alex Ballentine on January 29. The NFL analyst included a hypothetical trade proposal that could get the deal done, pitching:


Bengals get former first-team All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Indianapolis Colts get 2024 second-round pick (No. 49 overall), 2025 fifth-round pick.

Not included in the exchange above is the cap relief that Indy would receive as they look to lock up wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. long-term. According to Over the Cap, trading the $84 million contract would free up over $20 million in 2024.


Buckner is set to hit free agency the following spring in 2025, so the Colts might hope to flip the reliable veteran while they still can. As for Cincinnati, Ballentine voiced that “trading for Buckner would give them a legitimate star in the middle of the defense.”

The Bengals really struggled to stop the run this season, and they didn’t get much pass-rush support from their interior defenders other than the 4.5 sacks from B.J. Hill,” the writer reasoned. “[Buckner’s contract] has minimal guarantees, so he could easily be extended in a way that fits into their salary cap picture over the next three years.”


DeForest Buckner Would Bring Leadership & Consistency to Bengals Defense Entering Age 30 Season

Buckner has been traded once before, from the San Francisco 49ers to the Colts. The Niners knew they couldn’t afford to pay him after their Super Bowl loss in 2019, leading to a partial sell-off in 2020.


In his first year with Indianapolis (2020), Buckner made first-team All-Pro — although he was voted second-team All-Pro in 2019. Ironically, the game-wrecker’s two Pro Bowl appearances came in 2018 and 2021, but that just goes to show how consistent he has been throughout his career.

Buckner isn’t going to get you 20 sacks in a season, but he achieved a career-high of 12.0 in 2018 and he’s finished with a minimum of 7.0 sacks in each campaign since that impressive breakout year. He had 8.0 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2023.


Speaking of TFLs, the 6-foot-7 interior lineman has racked up 80 tackles for a loss since entering the league in 2016. Along with nine forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, 161 QB hits, 27 pass defenses and two defensive touchdowns.

Pro Football Focus has graded Buckner as a plus-disruptor with 50-plus quarterback pressures most seasons, but he’s also a solid run defender with marks that have hovered around 70.0 for the majority of his career.


The Bengals don’t have a player like this on the interior — plain and simple. Pairing Buckner with Hill and edge rushers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard could turn Cincy’s front four into one of the most ferocious in the NFL.


Bengals DTs D.J. Reader & Josh Tupou Are Free Agents in 2024

Defensive tackle is an area of need for the Bengals in 2024. Not only was the production lacking last year, but rotational cogs D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou are both unrestricted free agents heading into February.

Reader was putting together a very respectable season before his injury. The veteran was involved in two sacks and 34 pressures according to PFF, with a solid pash-rush win-rate of 12.9%.


His biggest negative was his seven missed tackles.

Tupou is more of a nose tackle, but he can be improved upon as a run defender with an average depth of tackle of 3.2 yards per stop. Despite that being his area of expertise, Hill and Reader allowed less yardage per tackle.

Buckner would be an upgrade on both unrestricted free agents via trade, let’s say Cincinnati is unable to re-sign them — or chooses not to.

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