The Bengals offensive line moved on from one of its senior performers Tuesday when they released Kyle Cook, their starting center for the past five seasons.
Up front they were also girding for the departure of left tackle Anthony Collins at the tune of $7 million per year, according to media reports. The Bengals would have like to have started him at left tackle this year, but not for a price more than each of their other tackles, Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith. So the left guard experiment with Whitworth looks to have ended at Collins' decimal point as Whitworth returns to the left tackle spot he earned a Pro Bowl berth and has helped the Bengals to a 41-33 record in the 74 games he has started there since 2009.
Whitworth is waiting to see what happens, but he's happy for the guy he took under his wing when Collins was drafted in the fourth round in 2008 and carved out an impressive backup role with 25 starts at both tackles.
"He's a guy that ate at my house that first day, knows all my kids, we're real close and I'm happy for him," Whitworth said. "There'd be nobody in front of him and he'd just play."
From a salary cap standpoint, Cook's release and last week's three-year deal with the clubhouse leader to take his place, Mike Pollak, is about a wash with Cook's hit for this year about $2.5 million and Pollak at about $2 million, so the move wasn't done for salary cap reasons.
But maybe a youth movement.
Cook, who played on a loose bone in his foot in the playoff game after injuring it the week before, turns 31 just before training camp.
"I don't know. Maybe. These things happen all the time," Cook said. "My foot hasn't really bothered me since a week after the game. I thought they'd give me more time to come back better than ever after I came back from a much more serious injury in 2012."
Cook actually phoned Pollak Tuesday to wish him the best after head coach Marvin Lewis told him of the move. It was indicative of the classy way Cook approached his 70 starts and said good-bye to the city he has called home since 2007 when the Bengals signed the undrafted rookie to the practice squad after his cut down day release from the Vikings.
Whitworth remembered exactly how Cook arrived that day.
"To me it's what the NFL is all about," Whitworth said. "He was here only because the Colts took (guard) Dan Santucci off the practice squad. And Kyle goes from being undrafted to the practice squad to starting to going to four playoffs. That's what the league is all about. Kyle Cook did a lot of great things in Cincinnati. It's tough. But it's coming for every player when some day a team tells you it's time to move on."
Cook's eight-week-old daughter was born in Cincinnati and he and his wife recently moved into a house on the east side. And he was so at home with the Bengals playbook that offensive line coach Paul Alexander called him one of the smartest players he's ever coached.
Pollack said last week that when he was hurt last year, he spent his rehab standing next to Cook so he could better absorb the playbook.
"My wife and I want to thank my teammates and the city for seven great years," Cook said. "There are no hard feelings. It's a business. I'll stay in touch. I called Whit and I'll see him down there at the NFL (Players Association) meeting in Orlando next week. I called Mike (Pollak) to congratulate him on his contract. And I'll always be close to Paul. I've known him so long. I'll still work his camps."
Cook, 30, the only Bengal to be the center for two different playoff quarterbacks, became a key figure when he helped them dig out of the 4-11-1 hole in 2008. Making his first NFL start in the 2009 opener, Cook helped the Bengals' re-built offensive line fuel an AFC North title under quarterback Carson Palmer with the league's No. 9 running game. Then in 2011 Cook helped Andy Dalton become the first rookie in history to make the playoffs while throwing 20 touchdown passes.
"Kyle has been a great Bengal, a tough guy and an excellent leader. In addition to being a good player, he showed great ability to coordinate things at the line of scrimmage," Alexander said in a statement. "He has been a big help to Andy Dalton as Andy has developed into a veteran player. So we don't want to see Kyle go without commending him for his service to the team."
But with the emergence of Pollak last season they appear to be going with a more mobile type of center. Also in the mix to start in a very early picture is Trevor Robinson, who started seven games as a rookie in that 2012 season Cook began on injured reserve with a severe ankle injury that cost him the first 12 games and ended his streak of starting 50 straight.
"We have some other options available, involving other veterans and some younger guys, and we decided this is the best direction to go," Alexander said. "I couldn't tell you right now who our No. 1 center will be, but that's because we do have a few different options that we're confident will improve us in the end. That's what the offseason programs and training camp are for, to evaluate those possibilities and come up with the best one."
Although Pollak has never played center in his five NFL seasons, he says it is his most natural position. It's where he played at Arizona State when the Colts drafted him in the 2008 second round.
"I think Mike's a great guy and a good player, Trevor played well and T.J. Johnson was drafted last year (in the seventh round)," Cook said. "Those guys are good players."