Pat Sims will wear No. 92 for the Bengals after donning 90 for Oakland.
The man the defensive line dubbed with affection "The Dancing Bear," for his light feet and anchor bulk waltzed back to Cincinnati Thursday when run-stopping Pat Sims took a one-year deal to join Michael Johnson as the second down lineman this month to return to the team that drafted him.
"They know they play better with each other," said John Thornton, the Octagon agent who co-reps both. "They don't have any egos. They all still keep in contact and they can all still play. That rarely happens."
Seven years ago, when Thornton was in his last season in the NFL and Sims was a third-round pick out of Auburn breaking into the league, Thornton went to defensive line coach Jay Hayes when the Bengals were 0-8 and suggested Sims take his spot.
"I told Pat then, 'If there's anybody that's got your back, it's me. I gave you my job,'" Thornton recalled. "I figured I wasn't going to be back next year, we weren't winning, and Pat could get a jump on the next year. I was playing just first and second down and Pat was playing only third. So I figured, why don't we just reverse it? It kept me fresh and gave Pat the snaps. He's a good dude and a guy that helps the rotation."
Thornton still has his back. Like Johnson, who left after the 2013 season, Sims had a desire to return after starting 18 games during a pair of one-year stints in Oakland. In fact, he almost re-signed last year until the Raiders put more money on the table and the Bengals were trying to clear the decks for the Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict deals after mega defensive line deals to Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
After Thornton did the Johnson deal two weeks ago, Sims texted Thornton and asked, "What's going on?" Soon Rick Smith of Priority Sports, who co-reps Johnson and Sims, was on the horn to the Bengals and they added another big back-up-run-stopping tackle they've been looking for since, well, Sims left after the 2012 season. When this band was together in '11 and '12, they finished seventh and sixth in defense, and 10th and 12th against the run. They finished No. 5 vs. the run in '13, but fell to No. 20 last year.
The 2012 season began when the Bengals selected Penn State tackle Devon Still and Clemson tackle Brandon Thompson back-to-back in the second and third rounds and Sims missed the first eight games with a hamstring injury. But the kids never beat him out. Thompson only played three games and when Sims came back in mid-season Still was inactive the rest of the way after playing in the first eight games.
Thompson has panned out with Sims in Oakland, but Still has struggled with injuries and it looks like Sims and Still are going to battle for that fourth and final tackle spot behind Atkins, Thompson and starting nose tackle Domata Peko.
Sims just wasn't able to stay healthy in his first go-around here, which made him one of the most underrated guys on the roster. He missed 20 games with a variety of ailments as head coach Marvin Lewis constantly stayed on him to stay in shape.
But when talking about Sims before the 2012 playoffs, Dunlap said, ""Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don't lie. He's the key to the whole thing. He makes the seven-man rotation."
In the 13 games Sims missed in 2011 and 2012, the Bengals allowed 4.5 yards per rush. In the 19 games Sims played, they allowed 3.6. Clearly there are other factors, but the numbers were pretty clear. When Sims hurt both his ankles and missed the last five games of the 2011 season, the Bengals went from 3.5 to 4.9 yards per rush. In the first half of the 2012 season that Sims sat out, the Bengals gave up 4.3. In the last eight games it was 3.9 as they finished 7-1.
Other factors, of course, but Sims has inordinate strength and it showed up in Oakland, where profootballfocus.com had him rated in the top of half of tackles against the run and as high as14th in 2013. And, at 29, he is staying healthy, playing back-to-back full seasons for the first time in his career this past year."
When Johnson was asked Thursday what Sims brings to the table, he texted "Dancing bear," a salute to his size and athleticism.
And Thornton is going to make sure it continues.
"I've always said this about Pat," Thornton said. "If he keeps his eye on his body and pays attention to it, he can play until he's 35 in this league. He can be like Pat Williams was up in Minnesota. A big guy that can play. Strong against the run and he can collapse the pocket. I already told him today. It's time to step it up."
Johnson already texted Thornton and said he's going to get him in the weight room Friday back in Atlanta. But he won't give up No. 90. That has been Sims' number in the NFL, but Johnson claimed it when he returned. It looks like No. 92 for Sims, leaving the only number available on the line No. 91, the jersey of Robert Geathers, cut last month after 11 seasons and 152 games.
"You've got to let that jersey be empty for a while out of respect for Rob, one of the great veterans," Thornton said.
So maybe the numbers are different, but the hearts are in the same place.
"Pat was injured most of the time he was here, but yet the team welcomed him back," Thornton said. "It's commendable of them and it says something about the players. They moved on, but neither side burned any bridges."