A year ago this week in free agency, the Bengals overhauled their offensive line.
This week, as they prepare to welcome four-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr., to Paycor Stadium on Friday to sign his four-year deal, they solidified it.
A day after agreeing with Brown they inked Cody Ford, his college line mate from Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's hometown of Norman, Okla., after Ford conducted his own interviews with several past Bengals.
While Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow lunched with Brown in New York City Thursday in a bizarre coincidence that was no doubt far from Burrow's usual recruiting menu of cookies and crackers, Ford found plenty to chew on during his Paycor visit.
Ford knew he found a spot when two who just left in free agency endorsed what Taylor has going on in Cincinnati. Another college teammate, Samaje Perine, as well as Jessie Bates III, who has mutual friends with Ford, gave a thumbs-up on the culture and Ford saw the facilities for himself before signing the deal Thursday.
"They said good things. Respectful things even after they had already parted ways. They definitely gave good reviews," said Ford, whose 32 NFL starts have come at both tackle and guard in primarily back-up roles.
He didn't stop there. He checked in with fellow former Bills guard Quinton Spain, a Bengal in 2020-21, as well as Andrew Brown, a Bengal from 2018-20 whom he ran across when they were in Arizona last season. When the reviews matched up with the willingness of the Bengals to give him a shot at his position of choice at right tackle, he had a deal.
Ford called the signing "full circle." During the run-up to the 2019 draft, he had a "weird feeling for sure," he could end up in Cincinnati and he was almost right. After taking Jonah Williams with their 11th pick, the Bengals coveted Ford enough that they were prepared to go offensive line again and explored trading up in the second round.
But they couldn't get the right deal before Ford went to the Bills at No. 38. The Bengals traded out of No. 42 to Denver (where the Broncos picked quarterback Drew Lock) and the Bengals went down ten spots to take Washington tight end Drew Sample. Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack was then with the Jets and liked Ford, too.
Check out the best photos of T Cody Ford from his career so far.
"He was a high draft pick for a reason. He's got a lot of tools to work with and I know he's had some injuries early in his career," Pollack said. "He's got a lot of traits. This is a chance for him to come off an offseason healthy and get an opportunity to get re-started here."
After starting 15 games for the Bills at right tackle as a rookie, the 6-3, 330-pound Ford ended up at left guard before playing some right tackle for the Cardinals last season. Injuries have limited him to 49 of a possible 66 games. But he already feels revived with the Bengals telling him he'll get a shot to play right tackle as incumbent La'el Collins rehabs his torn ACL.
"Yes, I do feel like I've been playing out of position and they do, too," Ford said. "I'm excited to be playing tackle again."
Bengals fans know the litany of high draft picks who have rebuilt their careers here and been key contributors to AFC North title teams. It goes all the way back to safety Chris Crocker in 2009 and kept going with guys like cornerback Adam Jones and safety Reggie Nelson. Of the more recent vintage, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in 2021 and tight end Hayden Hurst last year were so good they earned multi-year offers in free agency after postseason runs.
And although Ford's confidant, Quinton Spain, was undrafted, he also came off the Buffalo bench to give the Bengals' offensive line a lift in 2020-21.
"(Spain) had nothing but good things to say," said Ford of Pollack. "I remember him from the draft. I know he's got a lot of experience and has built a great room in there and I'm ready to be a part of it."
Brown just happened to meet his new franchise quarterback when both were in the big city for TV appearances with Burrow on Friday's "Today Show," and Brown doing Thursday's ESPN rounds before boarding a flight to Cincinnati Friday morning to sign his deal.
Pollack can't wait. He was a guard in the 1990s NFL and an admirer of Brown's father, the late Orlando Brown, Sr., one of the league's top right tackles in that era.
"How could you not? He was a hell of a player. Big, dominating player," said Pollack, who can't say enough about the son. "He's had Pro Bowl-level success on both sides, right and left. He's got passion for the game. He comes from great lineage and genes with his dad."
Here is Pollack's thumbnail breakdown of Brown's game:
"I like how he uses his length and his hands. I like how he can provide some power and anchor. I like that he shows a physical finish in the run game. He's got what I would call your dancing bear feet. He's a big man who can move his feet while he's working his hands independently. You just have to love his overall production. He's a proven entity."
With the Bengals giving Ford a shot at playing right tackle, the move raises the possibility of the two Oklahoma Sooners being reunited on the bookends of a starting offensive line as soon as Opening Day.
It's only one of the many options suddenly facing Taylor and Pollack after the Bengals used the last 36 hours or so to swiftly transform their tackle depth that also includes incumbent left tackle Jonah Williams, incumbent swing tackle Jackson Carman, as well as the rehabbing Collins and backup swing tackle Hakeem Adeniji.
No one has seen Brown here more than Ford.
"Orlando is a savage. A beast," Ford said. "He's a great guy, a great friend and a great teammate. You can always rely on him. He's always there. I texted him I was coming in for a visit, but I think he had already done his business here. He didn't text me back. I think he was giving me some space."
Now they're back on a line that looks a lot different than it did, it seems, a few hours ago.