When discussing the future of Jermaine Gresham with friends this year, I often find myself debating a defense. Yes... if you follow my Twitter feed I tend to play devil's advocate -- there isn't a greater irritation to me than mob-like opinions without consideration toward an alternative or, at the very least, an effort to approach a significant topic with an unpopular perspective.
Has Jermaine Gresham let you down?
As a former first round pick, from an NFL draft that took place five years ago, people are simply incapable of looking beyond that. Was his production worth the pick? Gresham averaged 56 receptions and 544 yards receiving per season with 24 combined touchdowns in five seasons -- the last featuring his third offensive coordinator within a system that's limited in passing game progressions. Another perspective wonders if it's even fair that Gresham is being judged while the tight end position is undergoing significant evolution with players like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowksi.
There IS the issue of the drops. The fumbles and the penalties have been especially irritating.
To his credit, the drops significantly... *uh huh*... dropped. During his first three seasons, Gresham dropped 22 passes. Over the last two seasons (since 2013), Gresham dropped only four of 108 catchable passes... and only one this season. The penalties went down as well. After generating 20 penalties combined in 2012 and 2013, Gresham ranked fourth on the team with five flags in 2014, sitting behind Terence Newman (8), Adam Jones (7), and Andre Smith (7). On the other hand, Gresham fumbled three times in 2014 -- a career-high. Now he didn't lose any fumbles all season, which is a first and one led to a touchdown.
Heading into the wild card game against the Indianapolis Colts, Gresham had scored a touchdown in three straight games that he played and scored in five of the prior six games. When he scored two touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints earlier this year, he became only the fourth tight end in franchise history to surpass 20 touchdowns in a career.
He may have let you down this season and perhaps he didn't stand out as one of the absolute best players -- he ranked second in receptions on the team (62) and touchdowns (5) -- but he didn't really deserve scorn either. It may, at times, appear to be a liability, but who on this team fought hard for trivial yards more than Gresham?
Is there disappointment that he sat out against Cleveland with a toe injury when the team believed he could have played? Yes. Did it matter in the game at all? No. Is it especially troublesome that there are personnel at Paul Brown Stadium, presumably coaches, that "want nothing to do with Jermaine Gresham"? Yes. Are there maturity issues? Absolutely. Is he "long gone"? I'd be surprised if the Bengals bring him back... but not oh-my-god shocked.
On the other hand, I'd be floored if Gresham wants to come back (read his timeline during the season). Then again, I was floored when the Bengals re-signed Rey Maualuga after 2012. If Gresham enters free agency without much of a sniff from others teams, the Bengals could sign him to a cheap one-year deal to join the suddenly-worrisome Tyler Eifert and his durability questions. We shouldn't expect it.