NFL free agency is approaching fast as the Bengals work to keep many of their top players set to hit the open market.
However, they will soon need to begin working on extending the contracts of future free agents. One of them is Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert, who currently is under contract only for the 2016 season.
That is, unless the Bengals exercise the fifth-year option Eifert has built into his rookie contract because he was a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson reports the Bengals are expected to pick up that option in May.
For the top 10 first round selections, the fifth year option salary is equal to the average of the 10 highest salaries at that position. For the remainder of the first round, including Eifert who was picked with the 21st overall selection, the wage is the average of the third through 25th highest salaries at the position. Typically, the deadline for the fifth-year option is in May.
There really isn't any question as to whether the Bengals should exercise the option or not. Eifert has done more than enough to warrant that extra year under his rookie contract, not to mention the Bengals may be best served to let him play out all five years before deciding on what kind of long-term extension to give him.
A good example of signing a guy to an extension too soon could be argued for what the Patriots did with their All-Pro tight end. After just two years in the NFL, New England signed Rob Gronkowski to a six-year, $54 million contract extension in 2012 that included an $8 million signing bonus.
Though Gronk had clearly become the league's best tight end, he came out of Arizona in 2010 with injury concerns, and that began rearing its ugly head as he missed 18 games over the next two seasons (including playoffs) due to a variety of injuries.
Had the Patriots waited another year or two to extend Gronk, they probably would have saved a lot of money and gotten him at a cheaper deal and one that didn't guarantee as much money. But, if you compare Gronk's contract to that of other NFL tight ends, he's actually getting underpaid.
The Bengals are facing a similar scenario with Eifert, though he's already had his injury issues in the NFL, most of which came during his second season. Through his first three seasons, Eifert has missed 20 games due to injury, 16 of which came in 2014 (including the playoffs) due to a dislocated elbow and a torn shoulder labrum. This year, Eifert tackled a stinger and a concussion and missed three games.
You could argue that the Bengals should work to extend Eifert's contract this offseason after Eifert managed to play at a Pro Bowl level through 14 games this past season (including the playoffs). But what if he suffers another major injury and misses significant time in either of the next two seasons?
While Cincinnati could probably sign Eifert to a manageable contract now, they could be best served waiting a year or two to extend him so he can show the ability to make it through a season without injuries limiting him.
If Eifert ends up doing so and the Bengals have to pay him more than they would if they extended his deal now, so be it.