In order free up salary cap room after committing about $130 million on five new starters in free agency, the Bengals on Friday released eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Head coach Zac Taylor also confirmed that right tackle Bobby Hart and backup quarterback Ryan Finley have also been released. Before it was official, the Bengals swung a deal for Finley with undisclosed terms, probably getting a late draft pick in return.
Atkins, who has a chance to be the Bengals' next first ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer, could return if the numbers match. The Bengals save $9.5 million in the cap this year off the four-year, $62.5 million extension he signed through 2022.
The deal was done when the Bengals signed former Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, a 26-year-old protégé of Atkins. Ogunjobi, a third-round pick out of Charlotte in 2017, became a fan of Atkins' play and the two became close when Ogunjobi reached out and now it looks like he'll replace Atkins in the starting lineup next to nose tackle D.J. Reader.
One of the greatest draft finds in the history of the Bengals, the 6-1, 300-pound Atkins defied his height and came barreling out of the 2010 fourth round from Georgia to become one of the game's dominant inside pass rushers. Using an unblockable brew of leverage and strength, Atkins has racked up 75.5 sacks in 161 games.
According to Pro Football Reference, that's sixth on the list of pure defensive tackles headed by John Randle (137.5), Warren Sapp (96.5), Steve McMichael (95), Aaron Donald (85.5) and La'Roi Glover (83.5).
He has 4.5 in his last 26 games, ever since he had three sacks in the fourth quarter of a Dec. 16, 2018 win over the Raiders, and none last season. Atkins, who turns 33 in nine days, drew praise from coaches for trying to play through an injured shoulder that eventually required surgery and sent him to injured reserve Dec. 16 after playing just 119 snaps.
Atkins had a strong training camp that was derailed with the injury in the last scrimmage before the opener and he missed the first four games, played in eight and didn't have a start.
He had a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2012, the first of three times he had the most sacks of any interior lineman in the league. He also shared that title twice on the way to the third most sacks in club history behind ends Eddie Edwards (83.5) and Carlos Dunlap (81.5).
Atkins and wife Kristen have also built a powerful community presence, highlighted by their annual "Atkins Week of Giving," during eight days the week of Thanksgiving. Named the Bengals NFL Man of the Year this year, Atkins focused on victims of the pandemic and donated $50,000 in gifts, meals, and other items for more than 800 essential workers and underserved people in Cincinnati.
The couple also sent lunch to special education teachers, arranged for pizza deliveries to Newport Fire Department and the Boone County 911 Dispatch, gave gift cards and Thanksgiving meal bundles to 25 graduates of the Freestore Foodbank's job training program and delivered donuts to the Hoxworth Blood Center for 250 staff members.
Atkins' eight Pro Bowls are the most by a Bengals defensive player and puts him in line to join former left tackle Anthony Munoz in the Hall of Fame. Munoz was a first-ballot inductee in 1998.