Clint Boling, the Bengals’ most experienced and versatile offensive lineman with the majority of his 109 starts at left guard, announced his retirement Monday at age 30 after being shelved all spring dealing with a blood clot.
After meeting with variety of specialists following the discovery of the clot in January, Boling felt like he made the tough, but only decision he could for his wife and two daughters ages 20 and five months.
“There were talks about the risks associated with playing again,” Boling said. “When it came down to do it, ultimately I couldn’t wrap my head around it with the family and two kids. There’s no doubt in my mind if I’m 22, 23 years old with no wife, no kids and it’s just me playing football, I’m making a different decision. But at this point in my life I have more important things to take care of than myself.”
Boling, accompanied by wife Kelly, returned to Paul Brown Stadium Monday morning to meet with Bengals president Mike Brown before an announcement that ends the career of one of the building blocks of the Bengals’ 2011 re-boot that resulted in five straight post-season appearances. After they took A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in the first and seconds rounds, respectively, of that draft, they went for Green’s Georgia teammate in the fourth round off Boling’s 49-start run in Athens that included starting at least 11 games at three different positions on the line.
Along with Green and Dalton, Boling started that first game in Cleveland, as well as the next two, at right guard before veteran Bobbie Williams returned to the lineup and he went on to start at left guard in all seven openers since and in three play-off games as one of their steadiest and smartest players. With the line battered the last two seasons, Boling moved to left tackle for the last two games of both 2017 and 2018 and famously held up on the last snap of the ‘17 season when he kept all-time Ravens sacker Terrell Suggs at bay while Dalton converted a fourth-and-12 on a 49-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left that won the game.
It’s one of those reach-down-and-gut-it-out plays he hopes defines his career.
“A guy that came in and did his job every day,” Boling said. “Do what needed to be done to win. No extra motivation needed. Do everything I could to try and win a game. Just do my job and handle my business every single day.”
Boling’s retirement continues a two-year upheaval up front that began when he was the only returning line starter for last season’s Opening Day. The move comes less than a month after rookie left tackle Jonah Williams suffered what appears to be a season-ending torn labrum. With Boling not practicing, the Bengals had moved incumbent left tackle Cordy Glenn next to Williams at left guard, but now he’s back at left tackle and the left guard scrum is ratcheted up several notches.
With Alex Redmond suspended by the NFL for the first four games, the Bengals have several but untried options. After Williams went down in a practice and Glenn went back to left tackle, Christian Westerman, a fourth-year backup with two starts, got the call at left guard in the mandatory minicamp. So did John Jerry, a nine-year veteran that didn’t hook on with a team last season who signed hours before the minicamp. Jerry made 32 starts at right guard for Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner in 2012-13 when both were with the Dolphins.
Also a candidate is Trey Hopkins, a fourth-year backup who started at least one game in all three interior positions last season. Two of his 21 starts have been at left guard. Also getting a longer look than he probably would have is Ohio State rookie Michael Jordan, at 21 the Bengals’ youngest player.
Without Boling and Williams the Bengals have an even bigger question at back-up tackle behind Glenn and Bobby Hart on the right. Particularly backing up the left side. The leading option appears to be Kent Perkins, a 2017 undrafted free agent out of Texas that has six NFL snaps at right tackle. Jordan is seen as a guy that could eventually swing to tackle if need be, but that’s not why they traded up to get him in the fourth round.
Boling had one year left on that five-year, $26 million extension he signed before the 2015 season. Kelly Boling recalled the last time they were in the corner office with Brown was four years ago when that deal was signed. “A (marriage) and two kids later since then,” is how she put it. This time around, Brown offered advice on how to cope without football and what could be next for him. Clint Boling isn’t altogether sure what that is.
“It’s a little bit exciting and anxious at the same time trying to figure out what the next move is,” Boling said. “It was a good meeting (with Brown). It was good to be able to talk to him face-to-face on the way out. It was very encouraging. It was meaningful to talk to him one more time.”
Kelly Boling called the day “bittersweet.”
“I always enjoyed watching Clint play. It gave me chills every single time he ran out of the tunnel,” she said. “But life is a lot bigger than football.
“It will be nice to have him home and taking care of the girls. I know they’re really excited to have him home, too.”
A look back at some of the best images in Clint Boling's career with the Bengals.