Three weeks after moving on from their most tenured player on defense, the Bengals continued to revamp their roster Wednesday when they released their most tenured offensive player in running back Giovani Bernard.
Last month’s release of defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Wednesday’s move with Bernard leaves linebacker Jordan Evans’ 60 games and wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s 71 games the most Bengals games on defense and offense, respectively.
Bernard, one of the most productive and inspirational players in franchise history at 5-9, 205 pounds, leaves with the most career catches by a Bengals back with 342. He broke the record of four-time Pro Bowler James Brooks, the man he trails by 145 yards on the backs’ receiving yards list.
As the Bengals push into second-year quarterback Joe Burrow’s new era, only tight end C.J. Uzomah, long snapper Clark Harris and punter Kevin Huber are left from the 2015 AFC Wild Card Game.
The move doesn’t appear to make room for a signing, but in response to free-agent spending that counts more than $30 million against this year’s salary cap as well as anticipating future extensions (Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard), the Bengals are believed to have tried to re-negotiate with Bernard. The move saves $4.1 million on this year’s cap (according to overthecap.com) and looks to elevate Samaje Perine into a bigger role behind two-time 1,000-yard rusher Joe Mixon.
Bernard (124) and Perine (63) split the carries last season when Mixon missed the last 10 games with a foot injury. The rugged 240-pound Perine emerged late, rushing for the club’s season-high 95 yards in the win at Houston during the next to last game of the year. Bernard has been the workhorse as the third-down back, but Perine added 11 catches to his repertoire during a season he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
Perine, 25, heading into his fifth season, signed a two-year deal last month. Other backs on the roster are third-year player Trayveon Williams, who averaged six yards per his first 26 NFL carries last season, and 230-pound Jacques Patrick, coming off a rookie year he spent on the practice squad.
The one stat that capture’s Bernard’s passion and reliability is his club-record 829 straight carries without fumble that spanned his rookie season of 2013 and last year’s record-tying eighth season. Brooks, Essex Johnson and Archie Griffin are the only running backs to play eight seasons with the Bengals.
Bernard’s childhood story of poverty and loss while growing up in south Florida culminated in a record-breaking college career at North Carolina, where he won the ACC’s Brian Piccolo Award for courage after recovering from a torn ACL. Bernard also recovered from a similar knee injury with the Bengals after losing about half of the 2016 season.
Raised by Haitian immigrants, Bernard suffered the death of his mother when he was seven years old and he traveled to Haiti as a pro player to build a school named in her honor. He has made several trips to his homeland and his work with the Le jardin vert de Josette School (translating to Josette’s Green Garden) helped earn him the Bengals’ NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, along with several other community endeavors.