When you look at it, Robert Geathers grew up with these Bengals and as his quiet professionalism matured and mixed with others, he helped transform a tumultuous locker room into a playoff staple.
So even though everyone saw it coming, it didn't make it any easier Friday when the Bengals released one of their more versatile players and valued leaders across the defensive front and around the locker room in the 11-year defensive lineman.
For a guy whose father and uncle played in the league and whose younger brother, defensive tackle Kwame, is still on the Bengals, the business end of the business came as no surprise to a guy who turns 32 in training camp and was set to count a little more than $3 million against the salary cap in the last year of his contract. It was in his voice and eyes moments after the Wild Card loss in Indianapolis ended. He has left the door open to play elsewhere, but with three children under the age of seven at home there are decisions to be made.
"I had a good run in Cincy. It's part of the business," Geathers said Friday afternoon after head coach Marvin Lewis gave him the news. "Eleven years with one team. Not many can say that. If the right opportunity presents itself, I might entertain that. If not, I'm content on having the career I did in Cincinnati. It's on to the next chapter and being the best husband and father I can be.
"I want to thank the Browns and the Blackburns for putting trust in me."
The departure of Geathers, a swing player between tackle and end due to count slightly more than $3 million under the salary cap in the last year of his contract, indicates the Bengals are looking to go younger up front via recent draft picks, future draft picks and maybe in free agency if the price is right.
The Bengals also released Friday wide receiver Greg Little, a veteran who was inactive for five of the last seven games and only played in the Wild Card Game because of injuries. His biggest moments as a Bengal came when he signed and then called out his former head coach in Cleveland, Mike Pettine, and when he had two huge catches in the win over Baltimore at PBS.
The move foreshadows what should be an active week next week at Paul Brown Stadium in the run-up to the March 10 start of free agency. It's believed the Bengals are going to be taking some visits from some of players that joined Geathers and Little this week on the street.
Geathers is the only Bengal to have played on all six of Lewis' playoff teams, but he appeared in only five of them because of the shoulder injury that wiped out most of his 2013 season.
Yet his 152 games are the third most played by a Bengals defensive lineman, behind only Tim Krumrie (188) and Eddie Edwards (170). One of the youngest Bengals ever when they took him out of Georgia in the fourth round in 2004 at age 20, Geathers played up and down the line as well as starting four games at SAM linebacker in 2007.
After starting every game for the 2005 AFC North champs at right end, he lost 15 pounds for the next season to 265 pounds and rung up 10.5 sacks as a third-down rusher for the club's most sacks in 23 years to earn the club's biggest defensive deal ever at the time, a six-year extension worth about $33 million.
He then started at left end for the next several years and while he never had more than 3.5 sacks after '06, the Bengals relied on his versatility and leadership as they transitioned to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's brand in 2008. Young defensive ends such as Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson often pointed to his tutelage for their success.
"Robert has been with us for all my seasons except the first one," said Lewis in a news release, "and he has been a team leader as well as a very productive player. He's an incredible teammate and a true professional, a big part of the winning seasons we've achieved. If Robert elects to pursue an opportunity with another NFL team, the timing of this move will allow him the best possible chance at that."
When Geathers arrived amid a vacuum of veteran locker room leadership, about the only guy he could look to was fellow defensive lineman John Thornton. Then the 2006 draft brought nose tackle Domata Peko and left tackle Andrew Whitworth and the Thorntons and Geathers began to become the majority when they teamed up with guys like cornerback Leon Hall, whom came in the next year.
"I was lucky that I came from a good college program and from a good family background," Geathers said. "I think that's what makes the locker room so good right now. We've got a lot of those guys."
After going to the playoffs once in his first five seasons, Geathers is the only Bengal to ever qualify for six post-seasons after going to the playoffs five times in the last six years.
"To be here for the whole process, to see where we are now, it's amazing," Geathers said. "When I look around now and see the character and talent we have in that locker room and how we are able to win games and how guys want to come to Cincinnati in free agency, it's like night and day from when I got there. Being there for the whole thing and seeing how we go out now and expect to win and hurt when we lose, it's amazing to be there for the whole thing."
With Geathers gone, a younger pair of ends who sat last year while he played about 52 percent of the snaps are going to get more time. Margus Hunt, a second-round pick in 2013, played about 14 percent and Clarke about five percent.
"They'll be fine," Geathers said. "They've got guys going into Year Six. They should know how to lead themselves. It's time for them to lead and you still have Peko and Whitworth and Leon Hall. I don't think they fall short in that category at all."
It's unclear if the Bengals are going to sign some of the free agents that are visiting or if they are just giving them physicals to see if they'll fit in down the road.
One intriguing name is former Cowboys and Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano, cut by Kansas City this week. The Bengals coveted Fasano coming out of Notre Dame in 2006 and it would have been an interesting call if he was there at No. 55 in the second round. But the Cowboys grabbed him at No. 53 and the Bengals went with Whitworth, a linchpin since that draft.