The Bengals have been out of the running for the 2016-17 playoffs since their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. However, a few former Bengals who found new homes over the course of the last year made it to the playoffs with their new teams, three of which made it all the way to the conference championships. Cobi Hamilton and the Steelers were eliminated in the AFC Championship, but Mohamed Sanu of the Falcons and James Develin and Matt Lengel of the Patriots still remain. Lengel’s journey is a particularly interesting one, as he spent all of 2015 and the first half of 2016 on the Bengals’ practice squad. Lengel was signed off the Bengals’ practice squad in November.
“I was sweatin’ and was just an overcome with joy and fear of the unknown, but joy that something you always wanted is happening,” Lengel told Paul Dehner Jr of Cincinnati.com about his transition to the Patriots. “So, I said, ‘Yeah let’s do it.’ Boom, I was on a plane that night. It was crazy, it was crazy.”
With the Bengals, Lengel’s opportunity was extremely limited at best. Tyler Eifert is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, when healthy. But, even when he isn’t healthy, the team seems to be confident in backups Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. Lengel’s best shot of making a significant contribution with the team, at that point, was waiting around for multiple spots to open up ahead of him on the depth chart.
“For me, coming out of EKU with the injuries and stuff I was just always going to be grateful for the opportunity to play,” Lengel said. “Being in Cincy on the practice squad, I wasn’t ungrateful but I wasn’t satisfied.”
That’s why Lengel was thrilled to receive a call from the Patriots and took advantage of an incredible opportunity.
“It was pretty wild,” he said. “Just perfect timing. Absolute blessing to experience that and hear the crowd. I was pretty speechless. Something like that happens I’m left speechless.”
Lengel was initially behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett on the depth chart. But, a month into his time in New England, Gronk went down with a back injury and landed on Injured Reserve. Once that happened, Lengel became the No. 2 tight end on the Patriots’ roster. He only had a few chances this year to contribute but caught two passes in Weeks 16 and 17 for 22 yards and a touchdown, although he has yet to contribute in the playoffs. Still, he is an active member of a Super Bowl team and doesn’t want to take that opportunity for granted.
“It’s just such a blessing that I was able to get this opportunity,” Lengel said. “To take a step at a time, a goal at a time, to be able to check off playing in a game, scoring a touchdown, check it off, it slowly takes a little pressure off and a little self-satisfaction.”
Some might try to use the contributions of Lengel and Sanu with their new teams as evidence that the Bengals made poor decisions to let good players walk away to new teams. But, in Lengel’s case, there simply wasn’t any room for him on the team with three solid tight ends taking up all of the available roster space. And for Sanu, the Falcons paid a pretty penny that the Bengals just weren’t going to match for a guy who was the third to fifth most targeted receiver at any point on the roster. At this point, you just have to be happy that Lengel was granted an amazing opportunity to further his career.
Which team (and former Bengal) are you most rooting for in Super Bowl LI on Sunday?