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Bengals DT Domata Peko Overstays Projections

Mr. Durable has played in 102 Bengals games in a row, extending the longest streak among non-specialists on the team's season-ending roster.

Domata Peko has one year left on his two-year $9 million contract before he is due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2017. But don't be surprised if the Bengals' defensive tackle is given the chance to play out his contract and offer a return on every dollar as the starter, a common scenario in Cincinnati.

Peko finished the 2015 season No. 1 on the depth chart and riding a long consecutive-games playing streak. Odds are, barring injury, he will remain there, opposite Geno Atkins in the middle of the defensive line to start 2016, despite any additional talent that might be acquired via free-agency (not likely) and the draft (likely).

There is speculation, and rightfully so, that the Bengals will select a defensive tackle during the first two days of April's draft. But that guy will have to be a world beater to beat out Peko as a 2016 starter, if the scenario plays out in that fashion. The 10-year veteran is a locker room favorite not only because of his leadership and what the Bengals call intangibles but also because they have unshakable faith in his on-field performance -- despite Peko's famous doubters, namely Pro Football Focus, Rotoworld and even the hometown newspaper.

The Cincinnati Enquirer was trying to put a nail in the coffin of Peko's playing career just one year ago when the team's beat writer suggested, and not without some merit, that Peko was a candidate for release before the beginning of the 2015 season. Now 31, there's no guarantee that Peko is going away after this season even though PFF says he has been one of the least-effective defensive tackles in the league the past few seasons.

The bottom line, Peko is a defensive line staple in Cincinnati, despite what outsiders may think of his performance. He has led the Bengals' defensive line in tackles four times. He's been named a captain several times during his career and is viewed as an emotional leader on defense. Additionally, he's occasionally utilized on offense as a lead blocker out of the backfield on short-yardage plays, some at the goal-line. He's involved in the community, here and elsewhere.

Most telling, however, is that Peko has played in 102 consecutive Bengals games, regular season and postseason, including the Wild Card playoff loss to Pittsburgh. That extended the longest streak on the season-ending roster among non-specialists. Long-snapper Clark Harris has the longest Bengals consecutive games streak with 113.

Speaking of durability, Peko just played his sixth season in a row without missing any of the 16 regular-season games. He has played in all 16 in nine of his 10 seasons, and started all 16 in eight seasons, including the last six straight.

If Peko in 2016 plays in all 16 regular-season games, he will tie former long-snapper Brad St. Louis for fifth all-time in franchise history for consecutive Bengals games played, at 118 (the leader is punter Lee Johnson with 172). The every-down position player with the most consecutive Bengals games played is linebacker Reggie Williams, third overall with 144. Nose tackle Tim Krumrie (127) is fourth. St. Louis (118) is fifth.

Doubters will point to Peko's starting streak coming to an end last season as a sign that the end is near for his career. Peko had started 101 straight Bengals games going into the Pittsburgh playoff contest. But his starting streak was snapped because the Bengals ran their first play without him while opening in a nickel front.

Underscoring how long Peko's starting streak had become, consider that the longest Bengals' starting streak on the season-ending roster now belongs to safety Reggie Nelson, at 47, more than half Peko's previous high. In spirit, though, Peko still leads. And what a positive spirit he's become for the Bengals while surprising his doubters just about everywhere else.


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