New defensive lineman Rankins: ‘Who Dey has been kind to me, whether they mean to be or not’

CINCINNATI — Sheldon Rankins said he didn’t want to bring up “old wounds,” but his experience playing against the Cincinnati Bengals stirred up some memorable moments in his career.

Last year, the then-Houston Texans defensive tackle produced three sacks in his team’s win over the Bengals at Paycor Stadium. He also recalled a good performance in 2022 with the New York Jets when he had six tackles and a sack, recording a game-winning sack for the Jets in 2021 and, in 2018, beating Clint Boling to get a sack on Andy Dalton in a win with the New Orleans Saints.

Now after signing a two-year, $26 million contract with the Bengals, Rankins looks forward to making plays to their benefit. Cincinnati introduced him in a press conference Monday morning.

“Who Dey has been kind to me, whether they meant to be or not,” Rankins said. “They’ve been really kind to me. Now they’re kind to me now, I appreciate it.”

Rankins did have some lingering questions for Zac Taylor regarding how the Bengals head coach didn’t account for him well enough during that November matchup in Cincinnati last year.

“They didn’t slide and I don’t know why,” Rankins said. “But that’s the first question I asked. Before I said anything, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ (or) anything else. And again, excuse my French, I speak freely you guys, I said, ‘Why the f*** did you not slide?’ And we just kind of laughed about it. He was like, ‘You know what, man, you know, we probably should have.’ And I said, well I’m glad you didn’t.”

Needless to say, the Bengals have noticed Rankins over the years.

This wasn’t the first time they tried to acquire Rankins’ services. After spending the first five years of his career in New Orleans, which drafted him 12th overall in 2016, Rankins had conversations about possibly signing with Cincinnati in 2021 but landed with the Jets instead.

Rankins acknowledged many people expected he would remain in Houston after the season he had last year, producing six sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 15 games. Cincinnati’s offer was something he couldn’t pass up.

“Nothing made more sense than here,” Rankins said. “Whether it’s money, whether it’s fit, whether it’s everything culminating into placing myself in a good situation with a good football team, with the right people leading it, it all made sense. This was the perfect spot for me right now in my career and that’s why I am here.”

Taylor said he was excited to bring in a “pro’s pro, locker room favorite, staff favorite” kind of player in Rankins. His past success against Cincinnati played a factor in the Bengals wanting him, and they believe he is a player that can help them win a lot of games.

Rankins also looked forward to being reunited with former Saints teammates Vonn Bell and Trey Hendrickson, but the opportunity was everything he was looking for at this point in his career.

“Stability, a place that wants me and sees me, not only part of the next six-month plan but sees me (as) part of the future,” Rankins said. “And then the team that wants to win. A team that has everything right in front of it. Everything in the locker room from a talent perspective, from a coaching perspective. To be able to push that envelope and really win it all at this point in my career. Those are the things that really matter to me. A place that feels like home, a place that truly wants me and wants to display my abilities on the field, off the field, as a leader, as a player, and then a team that’s truly capable of going and winning it all. A few years ago, this team was in the Super Bowl. We got all the makings to be able to make that kind of run again, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Although Rankins’ ability as an interior pass rusher gets noticed first, he believes he can also beef up the run defense, which took a hit with DJ Reader’s departure. Rankins said he thought Reader would be returning after the success he had in Cincinnati, but now especially, the Bengals need someone to step up in terms of leadership and run stopping, while also adding to the pass rush, and Rankins believes he can be that guy.

At the end of his time with the Saints, Rankins said his pass rushing ability came into question because he went from an eight-sack season in 2018 to producing just 3.5 sacks over the next two seasons. However, he contributed to a run defense with the Jets that ranked 10th in yards per carry allowed in 2022. Last year with Houston, he helped the Texans become the No. 6 run defense in the league.

“I think I do it all at a high level,” Rankins said. “You don’t get this far in the league, you don’t get the opportunities I’ve had to be a guy, again, the Jets didn’t have to play me on first, second down. They could have went out and got a big body and all that, but I feel like I play football really well. I don’t just rush the passer really well, like if you want to line up in 21 personnel, run power, fine, that’s cool, let’s do it. If you want to spread it out and throw it all over the park, just don’t leave me by myself all day, it’s going to be ugly. So, I feel like I do it all really well at a high level so I look forward to continuing that trend and to continue to do that over my career.”

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