The Cincinnati Bengals signed first-round draft pick John Ross to his rookie contract, the team announced on Sunday.
The receiver signed a four-year, $17.1 million contract with a $10.6 million signing bonus, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The Bengals also agreed to pay Ross his full 2017 base salary if he’s on the non-football injury list, Rapoport added.
Ross, the former University of Washington wide receiver, clocked a 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, breaking the record previously set by Chris Johnson in 2008 (4.24).
“It’s great for John that this part of it is out of the way,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “This gives him the opportunity to focus on finishing school and then football, and I think that’s important.”
That 2015 squad owned a backfield tandem in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard who each ran for 730-plus yards, with Bernard adding 472 yards receiving. The wide receiver trio of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu terrorized defenses. Tyler Eifert earned a Pro Bowl bid with career-highs of 615 yards and 13 TDs. And the offensive line was one of the best in the NFL.
Last year, that group was stripped. The Bengals lost Jones and Sanu in free agency. Eifert started just two games. And the running backs struggled with injury and production.
Heading into 2017, Green believes Cincinnati is restocked to return to that 2015 form. The Bengals added dynamic rookies in receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon. Wideout Tyler Boyd is expected to make the leap in Year 2. Speedy receiver Cody Core earned rave reviews from Green this offseason.
“They can all make plays all over the field,” Green said of his receiving corps, via the team’s official website. “I feel like we’re getting back to where we were in 2015 with Marvin, Mo. I feel like once TB gets settled in, he’ll be able to play faster because now he knows what to do and the way CC is coming along, and after adding Ross and adding [rookie running back Joe] Mixon, I feel like we’re getting back to that 2015 roster.”
There are a few stumbling blocks that could keep the 2017 offense from duplicating the 2015 success. The first is Green’s health. The superstar receiver missed six games last season, ending his streak of five straight seasons of 1,000-plus yards.
Dalton reported Tuesday that everything is good in the health realm with Green.
“I would say he’s better than he’s been,” Dalton said. “It’s the best shape he’s been in, probably. He’s fast, he’s big. He’s been doing it all. Even if you said he was the same, that’s really good.”
“It gets frustrating because you can play a whole season and injuries could happen several years ago,” Ross told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t feel the need to keep defending myself. Like I was telling the coaches you can get hurt doing anything, so I don’t really feel the pressure to defend myself.”
Ross, as the Enquirer noted, had his agent release a statement just before the draft. He also fought back against what he felt were misreported facts about previous medical issues during his opening press conference with Bengals reporters.
“I tore the labrum blocking and playing one of the most physical teams in our conference in Stanford,” Ross said. “I don’t think people understand. Some people don’t watch the film so I feel like there’s no need to defend yourself sometimes. Imagine if I was healthy is what I can pitch to people.”
For NFL players, injuries are an especially sore subject. They have the ability not only to impact draft stock but to pollute their perception around the league. Add in the fact that Ross played hurt — a point of pride and something extraordinarily difficult for college players to do — and it must be difficult to have that shoved back in his face.
Most of these injuries are not preventable. Despite all of them, Ross put up 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016. Unfortunately, flashing some of that same production and promise will be the only thing to truly quiet his doubters.