The Cincinnati Bengals are keeping Tyler Eifert under contract through at least the 2017 season.
The team announced Wednesday that the fifth-year option of Eifert's rookie contract had been exercised, meaning the Pro Bowl tight end will remain a Bengal for the next two seasons.
Right now is when NFL teams can pick up the fifth-year options of players who were first-round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, and Eifert is easily among the best to come out of that draft. The option will pay Eifert the average of the 3rd-25th best-paid tight ends and is guaranteed against injury only. The current projections have his 2017 option year being around a $4-6 million cap hit.
"We had very high expectations for Tyler when we drafted him, and he has met them all," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He’s a hugely important part of our team as we go forward."
Not since the days of Tony McGee in the 1990s was there a tight end in Cincinnati who was consistently a game-changer and someone the offense could rely on, but that's what Eifert has become. That's what the Bengals hoped Jermaine Gresham would become after making him the 21st-overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he never lived up to that billing before being let go in the 2015 offseason.
That left Eifert as the de facto tight end in an offense that wanted to feature this position. With Eifert, there were great reasons to as he's a 6-foot-6 guy who can tower over most defenders for contested balls, but also run gracefully enough to line up as a receiver and do significant damage.
All of this was on display throughout the 2015 season as Eifert emerged and became an elite tight end. His 12 touchdown catches led the NFL through Week 12 last year, but that's when injuries began costing him games.
A shoulder stinger and concussion led to him seeing limited action in the last four games as he finished with 13 touchdowns, which was still a team record for TDs by a tight end (previously nine). Eifert also finished with 52 receptions for 615 yards on just 72 targets, good for a 72-percent catch rate.
Though his season ended on a low note, Eifert was still named to the 2016 Pro Bowl. That turned out to be more of a scare as Eifert suffered a foot injury in the game, but thankfully it turned out to be just a sprained ankle.
Still, it was a scary reminder as to how injury-prone Eifert has been to this point in his career. Through his first three NFL seasons, Eifert has missed 20 games due to injury, including the Wild Card playoff loss in the 2014 season. Those injuries include a stinger, concussion, dislocated elbow and a torn shoulder labrum.
All of this doesn't overshadow just how important Eifert is to the Bengals offense, and that's why the team picked up his fifth-year option to keep his rights until the 2018 offseason at the very least. Most likely, Cincinnati will make a strong push to get his contract extended within the next year, possibly before the start of the 2017 regular season. The Bengals picked up A.J. Green's fifth year option in 2014 and then extended him prior to the start of the 2015 season, so look out for the team to do something similar with Eifert.