The Cincinnati Bengals look likelier than ever to be without Tyler Eifert to start the 2016 season.
The Pro Bowl tight end had a surgical procedure done on his ankle earlier this summer; the same ankle that Eifert injured in the 2016 Pro Bowl, which was thought to be minor at the time.
But apparently, it was more serious than we all thought even after Eifert had the surgery done. The initial three-month recovery timetable from late May seemed to put Eifert on track to play in Week 1 vs the New York Jets.
However, that timetable was based on the belief Eifert was having a procedure done on his lateral (outside) ankle ligaments, which is one of the most common ankle surgeries performed involving ligaments.
But as you may recall, Jay Morrison reported that Eifert's scars that were seen in the locker room were on the inside of his leg, not the outside. Morrison described it as, "a two-inch, crescent-shaped scar curling around the ankle bone on the inside of his left leg."
As Dr. Jeffrey E. Budoff points out at RotoViz (also noted by physician Jene Bramel at Football Guys), the inside vs outside report could be the difference between a three-month recovery and one that takes four to six months. Keep in mind that this is for the surgery along with a fractured ankle, which Eifert did not have.
His surgeon, Dr. Anderson, wrote a paper (read here) in which he reported a six month timeline for return to running and cutting following deltoid ligament repair associated with an ankle fracture. Following this combined injury (and repair procedure) 86 percent of NFL players were able to return to play.
As this timeline and return to play percentage is from patients who suffered both a deltoid ligament repair and an ankle fracture (that Eifert didn’t have) this should be viewed as the worst case for return to the playing field, which would be around Thanksgiving. Not good, but not necessarily representative of Eifert’s injury/procedure.
More realistically, as he had an isolated deltoid ligament repair, Eifert should be back on the field in roughly four months, or the end of September. For reference, The Bengals first game is on September 11, meaning that he could miss the first few games of the season. In addition, it’s very possible that he may not be "100 percent" for up to six months. And Eifert has never really impressed me as a ‘quick healer.’
Budoff does note that, "Eifert’s injury is an unusual one, it’s tougher to exactly predict the timing of his return."
Still, this is pretty bad news for Eifert as he enters his fourth year in the NFL and has yet to shed the injury-prone label he unfortunately has earned. If he misses the first month of the season, that would be a potentially crippling blow to the Bengals offense, given who they'll be facing.
The Jets (Week 1) and Broncos (Week 3) figure to have top-10 defenses, if not higher this coming season. They finished fourth and first respectively in total defense last year.
The Steelers (Week 2) are no slouch either. They finished 21st in total defense, but were fifth in stopping the run, right behind Denver (third) and New York (second). That speaks to how strong those front sevens are and how throwing the ball will be critical to beating them. Not having Eifert would be a big blow to that effort.
This is the second-straight offseason during which Eifert will spend most of his time recovering from a major injury, and it looks like this one will also cost him games. A torn shoulder labrum in 2014 forced Eifert to miss all but one quarter of the season and much of the 2015 offseason, though he returned to have a Pro Bowl season in 2015. This ankle injury will almost certainly cost him a game, if not more this coming season, though it hopefully won't cost him as much as that shoulder/elbow injury did.
Eifert finished the 2015 season with 13 touchdowns, which was still a team record for touchdowns by a tight end, and led all tight ends in the NFL. He also grabbed 52 passes for 615 yards before earning his first Pro Bowl berth.
If Eifert can somehow get back on the field in September, even if it’s that Week 4 Thursday Night Football clash with Miami, perhaps we can still see Eifert put up the kind of numbers he did last season.
Meanwhile, we’re just hoping that Eifert, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict and Geno Atkins are all healthy and playing at the same time in a playoff game this season. That’s something we have yet to see happen due to injuries.