Bobby Hart (68) is the first of what is expected to be many off-season moves up front.
Former Giants starting right tackle Bobby Hart is looking to revive his career in a change of scenery that was consummated Wednesday with what is believed to be a one-year deal with the Bengals.
The signing of Hart, which comes less than a week after his tumultuous exit from New York, indicates the Bengals’ off-season plan to attack the offensive tackle position with all avenues under new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. The first move to address arguably the biggest question mark on the club is the 6-5, 310-pound Hart, a 2015 seventh-round pick at age 20 that has 21 NFL starts before he turns 24 this preseason.
The Bengals don’t figure to stop there. No doubt they’d like to re-sign Andre Smith, the man that played right tackle over the second half of this past season after starter Jake Fisher underwent a procedure for what Lewis called “an irregular heart beat.” They expect Fisher to return but they’re also earmarked to take a left tackle in the early rounds of the April 26-28 draft and maybe even a right tackle.
“Bobby is a young player with three years of NFL experience and has very good upside and tools,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. “We are excited to add him to the team as we improve our offensive line. The offensive line is a focus area for us and this is one of various steps we are taking to improve our performance.”
The Bengals signed Hart after Friday’s release by the Giants capped a series of events that began when he reportedly informed coaches he wouldn’t play in last season’s finale against Washington and then was ripped in the media for shutting it down for a 2-14 team with his release portrayed as the first act of a new general manager’s house cleaning.
But Hart said he thought that there were those with the Giants that agreed with him that not playing against Washington was OK if his nagging ankle injury still bothered him, which he said it did.
Knowing the Bengals are looking for help at tackle, Hart’s reps reached out to Lewis. During Lewis’ 16-season tenure with the Bengals he’s presided over the revival of several stalled careers that benefitted from a change of scenery. The most well-known is cornerback Adam Jones, but other names on that list include safeties Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker, running back Cedric Benson, and most recently defensive lineman Chris Smith.
But not even they were named "Hart," and signed on Valentine's Day.
Frustrated by a season he was in and out of the starting lineup and plagued by the ankle injury, Hart said if he was healthy he had plenty of incentive to play in that last game because as a seventh-round pick he’s eligible to be paid under the league’s plan to reward lower-paid players for performance.
“It’s frustrating seeing all those things about you that you know are not true,” Hart said. “The main thing I took from (Lewis) is he’s not just blowing smoke. You can just feel the genuine aspect coming from him. When you get labelled those things, you kind of start to develop a wall, a shield where you block people out and don’t let people in. But when you talk to him and you feel how genuine he is, that wall just comes down. You just listen to him and you can feel he cares.”
When Hart came out of Florida State as a right tackle, some projected him as an NFL guard and that’s where the Giants started him but injuries up front moved him to right tackle, where he started all but three games the next season and seven last year. Profootballfocus.com ranked him below Fisher and Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi the past two seasons but the Bengals think he has an intriguing brew of power and mobility that give him an interesting upside. Plus, the ankle figures to be healthy.
“Tenacity. I’ve played a lot of high level football,” Hart said of his strengths. “Understanding the game. Just a lot of will to get the job done.”
Hart, who played with Bengals running back Giovani Bernard at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is embracing the fresh start.
“One of my good friends told me something that made sense,” Hart said. “Be thankful for tough times because after tough times you usually get a fresh start. I’m thankful for everything that’s happened to me … It’s just a blessing to be able to come to an organization like this.”