With news that Tyler Eifert could potentially miss the start of the 2016 NFL season due to an injury he sustained in the Pro Bowl, the Bengals will need to employ the all-too-familiar "next man up" philosophy and hope a young player uses Eifert's potential absence as a chance to break out.
Eifert's injury is bad news, but the potential that a young guy could have a chance to impress with increased snaps, whether Eifert plays in Week 1 or not, is somewhat encouraging. So with that, let's get into the biggest winners and losers from Eifert's injury announcement.
Tyler Kroft: The first of the Bengals' two third-round selections in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kroft got a chance to impress when Eifert missed three games late in the 2015 season. The rookie tight end caught 11 passes last season, compiling 129 total yards along with 1 touchdown. With Eifert and Ryan Hewitt potentially missing time, whether in the season or strictly during the offseason, Kroft will have a chance to develop a rapport with Andy Dalton and potentially motivate the Bengals coaching staff to start utilizing two tight end sets more often in order to get him onto the field.
C.J. Uzomah: The Bengals selected Uzomah in the fifth round of the 2015 Draft, which came as a major surprise to seemingly everyone. Uzomah was a very raw prospect coming out of Auburn, and it was clear he would need significant time to develop before being ready for snaps. With a year's worth of experience under his belt and snaps to be had at the pass-catching tight end position, perhaps it will be Uzomah who is able to impress coaches. It's possible Uzomah could be used as a receiver while Kroft takes snaps as the blocking tight end, where he will primarily play in 2016, barring another Eifert setback. If Uzomah can prove to be a competent blocker and a mismatch as a pass-catcher, he could potentially take the next step in 2016.
Ryan Hewitt: Though he sustained a minor setback of his own (though reportedly not football-related), Hewitt may well be the most reliable tight end on the roster not named Tyler Eifert. Hewitt's recovery time will be much shorter than Eifert's, as he's expected to be "back soon". Hewitt has more NFL playing experience than both of the aforementioned tight ends, and he's versatile enough to play fullback and tight end. Hewitt will be trying to earn a new contract, as he's in a contract year, and he'll likely be hoping to prove he's worthy of an expanded role, as well. After all, Jeremy Hill is one of the league's best running backs when Ryan Hewitt is on the field and an average back when Hewitt is on the sideline.
Tyler Eifert: This one's obvious. The tight end is one of the league's best at his position when healthy, but countless injuries have left people wondering whether Eifert can play through an entire 16-game season without missing time. Eifert's surgery will cause the tight end to miss most, if not all, of the Bengals' offseason and preseason, and it could potentially cost him millions of dollars if his production takes a hit upon returning to the lineup. That's not a win for the Bengals' contract negotiations either, as countless NFL clubs would still love to pay top dollar for Eifert if he hits the market. After all, teams have been more than willing to pay for top talent in the past, even if it comes at the risk of injury. Eifert knows his worth, and I think he's smart enough not to sign a bad deal because of injuries.
Cincinnati Bengals: I think it's possible this setback will cause Eifert to wait until next offseason to sign a contract. The tight end is one of the top players at his position, and with several fellow players at his position signing big-money deals, Eifert and his agent shouldn't--and likely won't--settle. If the Bengals believe Eifert can stay healthy down the line, as most teams have come to believe about their tight ends, they should offer Eifert a contract in the range of the recent extensions to guys like Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed. Most tight ends get hurt, yet that doesn't' stop teams from signing them to long-term deals. The Bengals should offer Eifert a good deal and get the job done now, before he could potentially become a hot commodity in free agency. And of course, the most obvious hit the Bengals will take in regards to Eifert's injury is the fact that the team could be potentially down its starting tight end, whether for just the offseason/preseason, a game or two of the regular season or potentially significant time. And, not having him able to train during the offseason isn't something to be happy about either. Training time is valuable time.
Bengals training staff: I'm no medical expert, so I'm not going to pretend like I know whether there was or wasn't error on the training camp staff's end. However, this setback certainly doesn't make the Bengals' training staff look any better. Fans have constantly railed the Bengals' training staff for past incidents involving Eifert, Marvin Jones, Vontaze Burfict, Antonio Bryant and countless other players, whether deserved or undeserved. It's sad to see the medical staff take a public hit, but with multiple players undergoing procedures that could've taken place three months ago, it's an unavoidable circumstance.
The Pro Bowl: Most Bengal fans seem to be frustrated with the training staff, but I'm going to focus my attention on the Pro Bowl. Let's face it, the Pro Bowl is antiquated, and no one cares about it anymore. My first realization that the Pro Bowl means nothing is when former Colts and Packers center Jeff Saturday made the Pro Bowl in 2012. Everyone knew Saturday's name in 2012, as he was Peyton Manning's longtime center. However, Saturday still made the Pro Bowl in 2012, despite getting benched for backup Evan Dietrich-Smith.
The Pro Bowl, as well as similar All-Star games in other sports, used to mean something. It was an opportunity for players to recognize their colleagues' achievements and give them a chance to earn a reward, as well as a well-deserved vacation to Hawaii. Allen Iverson's insane 2001 All-Star game was a rare circumstance in which an All-Star game was actually entertaining. Today, however, it's a different case.
It says a lot when guys like Matthew Stafford, Nick Foles, Derrick Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, DeAngelo Hall and Matt Schaub have all won shares of the Pro Bowl MVP award in the past six years. Last season, I turned on the Pro Bowl and the first play I saw, I kid you not, was a negative 22-yard run by Richard Sherman. The Bengals' superstar tight end got hurt and potentially lost out on a chance for millions of dollars in the same game that a cornerback took a reverse for negative 22 yards. Needless to say, I immediately turned the game off after one play.
The Pro Bowl is a joke. It's no longer a reward for achievement, as the quarterbacks who suited up in Honolulu were Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson. Of the six, only Wilson was deserving of a Pro Bowl nod, if the Pro Bowl were even an achievement and not just an excuse for a vacation to Hawaii.
Players on the team that wins the Pro Bowl are paid about $53,000, while the losers come home with $46,000. That's a lot of money, but it's nothing when you see that Vontaze Burfict was fined $50,000 for his hit on Maxx Williams. Granted, Burfict's fine was warranted for the illegal hit, but the point I'm making is that if Burfict were to make--and win--the Pro Bowl and be fined for one infraction all season long, his net gain on top of his salary for the season would be $3,000. Considering that Roger Goodell makes over $30 million every season, these players are paid chump change for playing in an extra game that doesn't even have any meaning. I hope you don't mind my rant on the Pro Bowl; that's just my take.
All in all, the Bengals should be fine whether Eifert misses time or not. The Bengals still have a healthy Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, as well as an impressive running back corps and offensive line. The Bengals went 2-1 in Eifert's absence last year, and they were down Andy Dalton in two of those three games. It's unfortunate to see a guy like Eifert have to miss valuable time in the offseason, and potentially the regular season, but the Bengals can bounce back.