As the NFL continues to move away from the true “bell-cow” archetype, players like running back Giovani Bernard become more and more prevalent due to their usage in specialized roles. Following his release from the Cincinnati Bengals, where are some potential landing spots for Giovani Bernard prior to the 2021 season?
Cincinnati grants Giovani Bernard’s request to be released as he looks for a new team
Typically, when you see a player on the open market, it tends to be due to an expired contract or the franchise opted to move on. This time, however, it’s because the player wanted out as Bernard requested to be released from the Bengals during the offseason.
A team captain in 2020, Bernard had one year left on a two-year contract that would have paid him $4.1 million in 2021. Two weeks into free agency, the Bengals asked Bernard to take a pay cut, according to NFL Network’s Insider Mike Garafolo. Honestly, it is an odd move. Sure, it would make sense if the team planned to spend the money elsewhere.
However, free agency is essentially over, and according to Spotrac, the Bengals are still $26.987 million under the salary cap. With this in mind, no one should blame Bernard for being unwilling to take less money. Meanwhile, the Bengals extended Joe Mixon and chose to re-sign Samaje Perine this offseason to a two-year deal.
Bernard has played all eight seasons with the Bengals since they selected him in the third round in 2013. He’s appeared in 115 games and rushed for 3,697 yards and 22 touchdowns. In addition, Bernard has hauled in 342 receptions for 2,867 yards and 11 scores. Bernard eclipsed 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of his first three seasons in the NFL.
Bernard’s receiving ability should help him find a new team for 2021
At 5’9″ and 205 pounds, the former Bengal will never be mistaken for Derrick Henry. Now 29 years old, it has been eight years since Bernard ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, so don’t expect an explosive athlete. Nevertheless, Bernard is still a savvy rusher and receiver, who is coming off a great season after filling for an injured Mixon.
Starting in a career-high 10 games, Bernard registered 124 carries for 416 yards and 3 touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 47 passes on 59 targets for 355 yards and 3 more scores. Bernard’s 47 receptions tied A.J. Green for third on the team despite seeing 45 fewer targets on the season.
Bernard now joins Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, and Green as the growing list of veterans who have left the franchise in recent years.
Potential landing spots for Giovani Bernard
Head Coach Urban Meyer and GM Trent Baalke remain in lockstep, stating they want “to build a room with [James Robinson] being an integral part of it.” They also mentioned adding competitiveness would be good for the room as well. Although they did sign Carlos Hyde, he is a one-dimensional RB that will be brought in for short-yardage situations.
Bernard brings an additional receiving element to the Jaguars’ backfield, which could prove invaluable — especially on third-down. Trevor Lawrence comes from an offense that utilized the running back early and often in the passing game. Bringing in an RB with that type of skill would be the prudent move by the Jaguars. Sure, Bernard is no Travis Etienne, but he could still be a reliable and affordable solution that adds both competition and a complementary skillset.
Opting not to re-sign Todd Gurley, the Falcons signed former Carolina Panthers RB Mike Davis in free agency. Filling in for Christian McCaffrey, Davis enjoyed a phenomenal year, totaling 642 rushing yards, 373 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns in 12 starts. I have no doubt he could be their RB1 come Week 1, but should he be is another matter entirely.
The Falcons are a team consistently linked to the remaining RBs in free agency such as Bernard. While Atlanta was one of the most pass-happy teams in 2020 (62.1% pass rate), that will likely change under Arthur Smith.
One of the critical architects of the Titan’s run-focused offense, I expect the Falcons to have a more balanced attack in 2021. Behind Davis, the Falcons have relatively unproven options. Although they all have looked serviceable in bursts, it would be challenging to argue Bernard is not an upgrade over Ito Smith, Brian Hill, or Qadree Ollison.
As of right now, Chase Edmonds is one of the silent winners of free agency. An efficient rusher in 2020, Edmonds demonstrated pace and versatility as he took over receiving duties from former Cardinal Kenyan Drake. Due to a frenetic pace of play, the Cardinals’ running backs will quickly rack up the touches. This pushes the depth chart into more sizable roles.
Behind Edmonds is nothing to write home about. Jonathan Ward was on the practice squad last season, and Eno Benjamin never made an appearance in a game.
I expect Arizona to be firmly in the running for one of the running backs in this year’s class. Some have even speculated they could take Alabama’s Najee Harris as early as pick No. 16. While Harris is the most deserving of a first-round selection, the NFL seems reluctant to spend draft capital on what is considered a replaceable position.
Signing Bernard to a two-year deal gives the Cardinals flexibility in the draft as well as bolsters the depth chart. Also, Kyler Murray would not mind another pass-catching option.
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