After having his fifth year option picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals before last season, Tyler Eifert will be playing the final year of his rookie contract in 2017. When healthy, he is one of the Bengals’ most productive players in the passing game and one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
In four seasons, Eifert has racked up 123 catches for 1,491 yards and 20 touchdowns. his rookie season he quickly established his worth while serving as Jermaine Gresham's backup. He caught 39 passes for 445 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2014, he unfortunately missed all but one quarter of one game after going down with an injury. Upon making his return in 2015, Eifert took the league by storming, catching 52 passes for 615 yards and an outstanding 13 touchdowns, leading all tight ends in the NFL. That was enough to earn him his first Pro Bowl appearance, but Eifert has vowed to never play in the game again after an ankle injury in that game caused him to miss six games to start the 2017 season (a back injury also partially contributed to two of the six missed games to start the year, too). He then missed another two games at the end of the year due to another back injury. Now, he's still recovering from that back injury and has yet to participate in offseason workouts. Last season, in quite limited playing time, Eifert caught 29 passes (a career low in years in which he played 2+ games) for 394 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to discuss Eifert without an obligatory discussion about his health, as he has missed nearly half of the games in his NFL career due to injury. Therefore, there is plenty of credence to either side of the argument of whether the Bengals should re-sign him now, or wait until next offseason when he hits free agency.
The argument for waiting to re-sign Eifert
When was the last time Eifert played a full NFL season? The answer is never. He came close in his rookie season, playing 15 of a possible 16 games. But, he missed 15 games the next season, three games in 2015, and eight games last year (only starting two). Yes, when Eifert is on the field he is a big problem for opposing defenses, but his lack of availability can be a huge issue.
Eifert’s lack of availability hasn’t stopped the team from trying to get him involved or picking up his fifth-year option, but it could lead the Bengals to be wary of committing to him long-term, before he ever proves he can play a full season. It could be much better for the Bengals to wait and see what happens in 2017, potentially gaining a lot of leverage if he doesn’t stay healthy the whole season.
After all, he is worthy of the franchise tag if it comes down to it. Using the tag could lead to more difficult negotiations in the future, but it would probably be better than committing to a player who has yet to prove he can stay healthy.
In 2017, the franchise tag for tight ends is $9.78 million. That’s not unreasonable money to pay Eifert—the tag will be slightly higher in 2018—and it might be worth it to tag him 2018 as opposed to taking a gamble on his health. There’s also the possibility for the Bengals to let Eifert go into this year unsigned and then sign him prior to the start of free agency in 2018. It’ll add some pressure for him to prove his ability to stay healthy and if he does, he’ll be well worth the money he’s paid.
The argument for re-signing Eifert as soon as possible
The Bengals can avoid a lot of problems going forward by simply working out a deal with Eifert before the season starts. What happens if the Bengals take a chance and let him prove his worth? Injuries are typically a freak thing that players have little to no control over. So, if this is the season he stays healthy all year, he could put up the kind of numbers that will have teams foaming at the mouth when free agency rolls around. At that point, the Bengals could have a very difficult time retaining him.
The franchise tag is typically a last-ditch effort for teams who can not agree to terms with a key player before their contract runs out. Yes, it is a nice safety net, but it would be nicer if the Bengals didn’t have to use it, potentially angering Eifert in the process. Then again, that is simply how the business side of football works, and the franchise tag likely would cost about the same as giving him an extension. But, if the Bengals can avoid it by retaining Eifert long-term, it would be much preferable to holding his contract hostage.
The Patriots got crafty with Rob Gronkowski’s contract, another tight end who has experienced major injuries during his career. According to Spotrac, Gronk has heavy incentives in 2017 (and throughout his contract), which are actually deemed, “not likely to be earned (NLTBE)” and based on production and/or playing time:
- 70% snaps OR 60 rec/800 yards OR 10 TD: $1 million
- 80% snaps OR 70 rec OR 1,000 yards OR 12 TD: $3 million
- 90% snaps OR 80 rec/ 1,200 yards, 14 TD OR All Pro selection: $5.5M
He also has per game bonuses of $31,250 in 2017 and $46,875 in 2018-2019.
All of this goes to show how injuries play a major part in the life of a tight end and the Bengals may need to get creative with Eifert’s contract to ensure he doesn’t become an injury liability in regards to the salary cap.
If the Bengals are simply waiting to see whether or not Eifert can stay healthy for a full season, they should already have all of the information they need. He has yet to do it in four full seasons, so assuming that will suddenly change in 2017 seems foolish. Still, he is a key part of the Bengals’ offensive attack, so not putting the proper effort into keeping him around with the team seems foolish.
What do you think, Bengals fans?
Should the Bengals re-sign Tyler Eifert now or wait until 2018?
This poll is closed
Re-sign him A.S.A.P.
Wait until 2018