Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, with only 16 games on his resume, turns 25 years old this September. It's a bit odd calling him the most experienced Bengals tight end; the veteran among a collection of rookie players. Yet with Jermaine Gresham leaving for free agency (and surgery to correct a herniated disc), here we are. Cincinnati drafted Tyler Kroft (third round) and C.J. Uzomah (fifth round) and signed John Peters and Matt Lengel as college free agents during NFL draft weekend. First-year player Jake Murphy, who joined the Bengals practice squad last November, rounds out a position that currently settles with six inexperienced tight ends.
After generating 445 yards receiving on 39 receptions during his rookie season, Eifert's sophomore season was saturated with frustration. Eifert suffered a labrum injury in his left shoulder during OTAs last year, when safety George Iloka landed on Eifert's shoulder while the tight end dove for a catch. It took time for the insanely-private Bengals to acknowledge the injury last year, merely stating that it wasn't related to a neck stinger; eventually the team moved from "stinger" to shoulder. Instead of having it surgically repaired, Eifert relied on a pain threshold. Following a handful of plays during the regular season opener in 2014, Eifert was eventually lost for the season when he dislocated his elbow against the Ravens. He underwent surgery and was never taken off the Injured Reserve list though he had a designation to return. Now, he's back.
"I’m one hundred percent," Eifert told WANE-TV this week. "I’m good to go. We just finished mini-camp and it felt good to be back out there running around. It feels good to be healthy again."
Eifert's rehabilitation caused him 15 pounds of lost muscle and the time it would take to rebuild his conditioning . "It's just hard when you're starting over physically," Eifert said earlier this year. I lost a lot of weight (about 15 pounds), a lot of muscle. I couldn't really do anything there for three or four months."
Eifert underwent surgery on the shoulder, as well as his elbow. The elbow was medically cleared a few weeks before OTAs, but Eifert did not receive clearance on the shoulder from Dr. James Andrews until the first OTA practice. His contributions gradually increased during each practice this spring.
Eifert believes this will be a big year for the team, and himself (who knows that he needs to rebound to piece together a good second-contract.
"I’m hoping for a big year," said Eifert via WANE.com. "We have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Hopefully we can put it together and I can be one of those pieces that helps us win games... I think it is a huge season. The team has to figure out if they want to pick up my fifth-year option. You know, you’re at that point where you are getting closer to a second contract, so I need to start stringing some good seasons together."
Cincinnati will have to decide by next May whether they want to pick up Eifert's fifth-year option -- which is written into every contract for first-round picks. If not, his four-year deal will expire after the 2016 season. Either way, that shouldn't be a concern. If he has a great season, the money will come.