The Bengals don't begin training camp until Wednesday's practice, but they picked up some momentum Sunday with moves that indicated franchise quarterback Joe Burrow has been cleared and multiple reports that they've reached agreement on a four-year extension with franchise cornerstone Sam Hubbard.
And despite the influx of centers the last few days, starter Trey Hopkins, six months out of ACL surgery, also looks to be cleared when he didn't appear on any of the three lists the Bengals released Sunday.
The Bengals don't announce signings until the contract is inked. In the wake of reports that Hubbard is on the defensive left edge through 2025 after agreeing to a $40 million deal, that move figures to come at some point Monday.
They always talk about hometown deals and the pundits can debate this one, but there's no doubt the Hubbard contract fits both sides as snugly as a pair of Who Dey socks. Hubbard, the old Moeller High School lacrosse whiz who grew up in suburban Cincinnati, has emerged as one of the Bengals' most reliable defenders and locker room leaders.
"I have no intentions of wanting to play anywhere else," Hubbard said Sunday. "This is my city that raised me. My whole family is here. I love this team. It's hard to put into words what this means for me and my family."
Hubbard has been a rock-ribbed three-down player since arriving in the third round of the 2018 draft. His 16.5 sacks are the third-most by anyone in his draft class, behind only first-rounder Bradley Chubb and second-rounder Harold Landry. He's also led the Bengals defensive line in tackles the last two seasons.
His most famous play may have been his hit on Deshaun Watson that sealed last year's win in Houston, but his biggest contribution may have been his work off the field a few months ago. Along with Burrow, NFL Players Association rep Jessie Bates III and several other core vets, Hubbard helped the voluntary practices get off the ground with eight workouts across May and June.
"I love this team and the guys in the locker room," Hubbard said. "We're a young team and we're coming together for some years now. Everyone on this roster has the same mindset. We're hungry. We want to win games and we want to do things the right way. That's why it's a pleasure to come to work and go to war with these guys."
The Bengals keep pouring money into the defense. Two seasoned NFL negotiators, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn and Hubbard agent Joel Segal, were working this weekend after an offseason the Bengals broke their free-agent record on a $60 million running mate for Hubbard on the right edge in the Saints' Trey Hendrickson.
They also committed nearly $60 million in free agent defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie and those came on the heels of the 2020 deals for nose tackle D.J. Reader and cornerback Trae Waynes, the second and third richest players in Bengals free agent history.
Now the hope is to secure the free safety Bates on a long-term deal before the Sept. 12 opener. Blackburn has a long and effective track record in the window between mid-July and Labor Day, ranging from a July 15, 2013 extension for Carlos Dunlap and last year's four-year, $48 million deal for running back Joe Mixon on Sept. 1.
"My agent and the front office did an incredible job," Hubbard said. "They did right by me and I plan to do right by them by giving them everything I've got for the next four or five years."
Hubbard, who turned 26 a month ago, believes he can accomplish his goals in his town with this team.
"It's been a while since we won a playoff game. That's obviously first on my to-do list," Hubbard said. "We've got the guys with Joe and everyone on this roster. I really love this team. It starts with winning games and getting a playoff win. We have to improve every day and it starts Tuesday (when the vets report).
"I just feel really good about this team, the locker room we have. The OTAs we had were very productive. I know how hungry the guys in this locker room are to win games. I'm just ready to go to work and give this team and this city everything I can in my power."
Hubbard has to be the least surprised guy in the city that Burrow didn't land on any training camp lists and looks ready to go on Wednesday as he comes up on the eighth month anniversary of his ACL reconstruction in early August. No doubt head coach Zac Taylor plans to bring Burrow along slowly, but the fact he's available right away shows that May and June wasn't a mirage.
"I've seen him in the gym every day this offseason. Nobody is working harder," Hubbard said of his close friend from their Ohio State days. "It doesn't surprise me that he's ready to go. He's been amazing and it's been because of how much discipline he has and how much work he puts in."
And it looks like Burrow is going to have Hopkins snapping to him sooner rather than later, although he also figures to get eased in. Plus, Reader, who solidified the middle for just five games last year before he blew out his left quad, also looks ready to get out on the field right away.
But not his backup, Renell Wren, who suffered the same injury last year in training camp. On Sunday the Bengals placed Wren and undrafted rookie wide receiver Riley Lees on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, which means once they are cleared they can practice.
The Bengals knew last month they were placing offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji on the Active/Non-Football Injury list because he suffered what is believed to be a season-ending torn pectoral muscle while working away from the facility. On Sunday, three rookies were added to that list in punter Drue Chrisman, defensive end Wyatt Hubert and defensive end Cam Sample. It's believed that Sample, a fourth-round pick, could be back soon but the status of Hubert and Chrisman are unclear.
They also placed undrafted rookie running back Pooka Williams on the Active/Non-Football Illness list and he could also be returning soon.