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3 best free-agent fits for former Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro Geno Atkins

After seeing his role diminished with the Cincinnati Bengals amid an injury-plagued 2020 campaign, Geno Atkins is searching for a new NFL team for the first time as he enters his 12th season.

Atkins’ excellent run with the Bengals included two first-team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowl bids. As Cincinnati has slogged through five straight losing seasons, you can bet Atkins is looking for a fresh start.

So why now the sudden fancy about Atkins’ free-agent prospects? Well, his market is going to heat up soon enough. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Friday that Atkins will be medically cleared on July 1 from surgery he had to repair a torn rotator cuff:

Let’s take a look at three logical destinations for Atkins, which, spoiler alert, won’t include the Dallas Cowboys.

A variety of factors are considered, such as positional needs, the quality of the team, how Atkins would fit in the locker room, and the potential for the 33-year-old veteran to maximize his earnings.

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Geno Atkins to Carolina Panthers

Geno Atkins to Carolina Panthers
Sep 22, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) jogs off the field following his sack of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (not pictured) during the first quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Several stars need to align for the Panthers to be competitive in 2021. They’ve had some good fortune in the NFC South, with Drew Brees retiring in New Orleans and Atlanta going through a rebuild and regime change. However, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in Carolina’s division, too.

One big question is whether quarterback Sam Darnold can shake off his struggles with the New York Jets and flourish under Joe Brady in Charlotte. Another revolves around how this super-young Panthers defense jells together.

Carolina is counting on three 23-year-olds to start on its defensive line, and 24-year-old Bravvion Roy at defensive tackle, according to Ourlads’ latest depth chart. The need for a veteran leader can’t be overstated, and they didn’t think enough of Kawann Short to keep him around.

Now, that Panthers group can get after it in the trenches, as Derrick Brown, Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos were all highly drafted. Atkins is the ideal mentor for all of them not only to take some pressure off, but that group can also help him stay fresh through the marathon of a 17-game season.

If Atkins returns to anywhere close to his Pro Bowl form and helps Carolina’s promising quartet collectively take a step forward, we could be seeing the makings of a playoff contender — provided Darnold delivers.

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Geno Atkins to Jacksonville Jaguars

Geno Atkins to Jacksonville Jaguars
Oct 20, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Money talks, doesn’t it? The Jaguars still have the most salary cap space in the NFL even after spending a good chunk of change in free agency to upgrade their roster.

Although Jacksonville did acquire Malcom Brown as a new starting defensive tackle, he’s much more of a run-clogging presence than a pass-rushing threat. That’s where Atkins and his 75.5 career sacks come into play.

The Jags have enough youth to count on as it is, led by No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence under center. They need recent first-round picks in K’Lavon Chaisson and Josh Allen (not the Buffalo Bills QB) both to come up big.

If there’s any division in the AFC that feels wide-open and lacking in high-end talent, it’s the South. Urban Meyer is bringing an entirely different approach to Duval County, and has won more than half the battle by getting Lawrence.

Maybe the potential to make a big paycheck, help out a rising program and possibly even shock the NFL world would appeal to Atkins. It’d be fun to see him take a one-year, prove-it deal in Jacksonville, ball out, and help the Jags exceed expectations.

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Geno Atkins to Seattle Seahawks

Geno Atkins to Seattle Seahawks
Aug 29, 2018; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (right) and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (left) answer questions at Paul Brown Stadium after both signed contract extensions with the team. Atkins signed a four-year, $65 million deal that keeps him with the team through the 2022 season. Dunlap signed a three-year, $45 million deal that keeps him with the team through the 2021 season. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

The Seahawks saved $8.5 million in cap space by releasing interior pass-rusher Jarran Reed this offseason. Reed is now with the Kansas City Chiefs, who welcomed the opportunity to scoop up someone who had 10.5 sacks in 2018 and 6.5 last year.

That production is difficult to replace, particularly for a Seattle defense that needed to rely on the all-world talents of safety Jamal Adams (9.5 sacks) to be a big contributor to the pass rush in 2020.

Due to the absence of proven edge-rushers on the current roster, Seahawks general manager John Schneider should absolutely be in on the Geno Atkins market. Too many of Schneider’s recent draft picks to address the defensive end spot have been misfires to trust in the team’s younger players.

What’s more, there’s a strong connection with this team-and-player fit: Carlos Dunlap forced his way out of Cincinnati last season and landed in Seattle. Dunlap could’ve signed somewhere else this offseason, yet he chose to stay put.

Atkins has probably gotten the skinny on the Seahawks from his longtime former teammate. Reuniting with Dunlap, playing on a team with an elite QB in Russell Wilson and getting to potentially compete for a Super Bowl in front of the passionate 12th Man fans may be the combination that sends Atkins to Seattle in the end.

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