Now that Geno Atkins has signed on as a Bengal through 2022, the franchise appears to have gained its second first-ballot Pro Football Hall-of-Famer to have played most of his career, if not all, in Cincinnati.
Wide receiver A.J. Green can fall into that category next season. Atkins, 30, the game-breaking six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, is on pace to finish his 13th season in '22 with 99 career sacks, the second most of any interior player in history and 2.5 more than the total Hall-of-Fame tackle Warren Sapp racked up in his 13 seasons.
When the Bengals played the Hall-of-Fame game in Atkins' rookie season of 2010, then defensive line coach Jay Hayes made sure during warmups that he introduced the 6-1, 300-pound Atkins to the 6-1 John Randle, the Hall-of-Famer who played at 290 pounds and has the most career interior sacks with 137.5 while proving that shorter tackles could have a big impact.
"I remember meeting and talking and him just telling me to go out there and play balls to the wall, 100 miles per hour," Atkins said after signing the deal that will make him the first Bengals defensive lineman to play 13 seasons.
It turned out to be a historic day up front that broke the sound barrier. The Bengals also extended Atkins' tag-team partner from the 2010 draft Carlos Dunlap through the 2021 season. That means he's all but certain to become the Bengals' all-time sacker with 19.5 more sacks, pushing him past Eddie Edwards' 83.5.
Unless Atkins, who trails, 64.5-61, catches him.
"Time will tell," Atkins said. "We came in together. I guess we'll leave together. It's a blessing both us of are able to stay here four more years."
Both Atkins and his line looked to be in mid-season form during Sunday's 26-13 pre-season victory in Buffalo in which the linemen split five sacks. Atkins only had .5, but his bull rushes of left guard Vlad Ducasse helped right end Carl Lawson get 2.5 sacks and nose tackle Andrew Billings 1.5. Atkins admitted this preseason has reminded him of 2012 and 2013 when he, Dunlap and right end Michael Johnson came of age.
"It's kind of funny. I was telling somebody that it's almost full circle," Atkins said. "I used to be like Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis, Andrew Billings, young guys. And we had veterans like Tank Johnson and Robert Geathers and Frostee (Rucker) and now we're the mentors and mentoring them and seeing them having fun out there balling. It brings back memories.
"I think we've got a good mixture of youth and veteran players," Atkins said. "Me, Carlos, Mike helped them along and I think they're showing it out there on the field."
A look back at some of Geno Atkins' best photos and memorable moments with the Bengals.
As for Canton, it's a long way off. Atkins is thinking about the Sept. 9 opener in Indy.
"All I can think about is going out and doing my job to the best of my ability," he said.
Dunlap is slated to join Atkins, Edwards and nose tackle Tim Krumrie as the only defensive linemen to play at least a dozen seasons with the Bengals.
Dunlap, 29, would join Atkins, Edwards and nose tackle Tim Krumrie as the only defensive linemen to play at least a dozen seasons with the Bengals. He set the club's single-season record with 13.5 sacks in 2015 and is keeping his eye on Coy Bacon's unofficial record of 22 in 1976.
"That was one of the most important things to me was to finish my career in Cincinnati as well as getting that unofficial record," Dunlap said. "I've been blessed to get that official record. It's just a blessing to do it in Cincinnati. It's just a blessing to do it with Geno."
Dunlap is a big athlete who makes big plays (three touchdowns, 16 forced fumbles, 48 tipped passes) with a big personality to match and he uses it extensively in the community. He took his anti-bullying campaign on some road trips last season and plans to do the same this season in a handful of cities.
"I never thought I would be an NFL player. I never knew where Cincinnati, Ohio was until they called on draft day and I asked my dad," Dunlap said. "Ever since then it's been a blessing for me and my family. With the teammates I've had here, it's like a family. This is like my second home. All the people I've built a relationship with over the years … The kids I go to speak to at school. It's just an honor to be able to finish my career here with the same people that saw me grow up over those nine, ten years."
There's no doubt in his mind who ends this run as the Bengals' all-time sacker in the friendly derby with Atkins that Dunlap leads by 3.5.
"Me all day. No question about that," Dunlap said. "That was one of the big things securing here. One of the reasons on top of finishing my career with one team."
Top photos of Carlos Dunlap in a Bengals uniform. Dunlap signed a three-year extension through 2021.