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Bengals roster cuts 2016: Looking back at Brandon Tate’s career in Cincinnati

It was a tumultuous five-year stint for Brandon Tate while with the Bengals, but like it or not, he was a valued member of the team for a variety of reasons.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have built a deep team over the past handful of years, but a couple of their players have been whipping boys of the fans. A lot of the ire is merited, but the spotlight on certain players just shines brighter when there is excessive talent everywhere.

Brandon Tate is one player fans had trouble with understanding why he lasted on the roster as long as he did. After all, he provided as many touchdowns on returns as lost fumbles (one), and had just three receiving touchdowns for the Bengals in five years.

So, on Tuesday morning many fans got what they wanted when Tate was released by the Bengals following their third preseason game. The move itself wasn’t overly shocking, given Alex Erickson’s impressive emergence this preseason, but it did come earlier than most expected.

However, if you listen to Marvin Lewis and the Bengals players, you start to get a sense as to why he lasted in The Queen City far longer than many hoped.

"He won a lot of games for us," was how special teams coach Darrin Simmons put it, via “I have immense respect for him."

While fellow return man Adam Jones said he “was at a loss for words” on the Tate decision, Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth echoed Simmons’ sentiments on his contributions. We all know big No. 77 is a person you listen to, given his leadership standing with the team.

“A lot of big plays. He’s a guy that’s been essential to what we’ve done over the last couple of years,” said Whitworth. “A great example and leader for the guys. He’ll be missed. He’s a guy that helped us more than people realize.”

Lewis also gushed about Tate’s character and noted that the team wanted to give him ample time to land somewhere else, out of respect. Whether or not he actually does, his locker is now empty inside of Paul Brown Stadium.

Some Bengals Career Highlights:

  • Tate leaves the Bengals as their all-time leader in punt return yardage with 1,411 on 153 returns. The number beats out other impressive returners like Quan Cosby, Mike Martin, Lemar Parrish and his longtime return partner, Jones. Though fans wanted more big plays from him there, it is impressive that he is the leader in the category even while splitting returns.
  • Tate is the team’s No. 2 career leader in kickoff return yardage with 3,517 on 145 attempts. He’s just 66 yards shy of the career leader, Tremain Mack.
  • For all of the fan talk of the lack of big plays, Tate was pretty secure with the football over the past five years. He only had one lost fumble since he arrived in 2011.
  • His 543 punt return yards in 2011 is the best single-season output in team history, and his 2013 campaign in the statistical category ranks fifth all-time.

A veteran in a time of turmoil:

Before the 2011 season, things looked very bleak for the Bengals. Their franchise quarterback had quit on them, their head coach who led the team to a four-win season in 2010 was re-signed, and other roster mainstays were shown the door. While much of the credit to the immediate turnaround could be given to some great NFL Draft picks, savvy free agency moves were also part of the plan.

Tate surprisingly became available when New England released him in their final cuts and the Bengals pounced. Due to their high waiver wire standing because of a poor 2010 season, Tate was readily theirs. They didn’t ever envision him being a big factor in the receiving game, but that isn’t what they primarily wanted from him anyway.

Even with the issues that popped up in the later years of his tenure, Tate had his only punt return touchdown in 2011, while also writing his name in the history books that year. It’s not something that many will talk about, but his performances were a nice crutch for a rookie quarterback to lean on that year.

Lasting Legacy:

For most Bengals fans, using Tate’s name and the word “legacy” in the same sentence seems ludicrous. For the better part of his five seasons in Cincinnati, Tate seemed to be a fringe roster guy who barely held on to a roster spot, year in and year out. It was evidenced by his four total contracts, including three one-year deals, over the six offseasons.

As a former coach, I realize that you’re drawn to certain players and want to keep them around, even if they aren’t the most talented on the squad. They bring leadership, character and make just enough plays to justify their residence on the roster. In short, they are just good to have on the team.

This is likely the case with Tate and the Bengals’ coaching staff. Check out some of Lewis’ comments as to his beliefs on Tate’s impact to the team:

Maybe we made a mistake in hoping for an All-Star return man, especially when Jones would come in and make big plays seem so easy. Heck, I’m guilty of it, given a negative commentary I made about Tate’s 2016 return this spring. But fans should appreciate who Tate was for the Bengals: a high-character guy who never caused waves and did absolutely everything the coaches asked of him.

Oh, and notice the last tidbit from Lewis in that quote? It still might not be the last the team hears from Tate. Would it truly be surprising given his continuous re-ups from the club? A future return would truly play into Tate’s legacy with the Bengals.