Sometimes a second chance is all a football player needs. After four relatively productive seasons with the Panthers and a Super Bowl championship year with the Patriots in 2014, Brandon LaFell’s career seemed to hit its stride. However, a 2015 campaign with New England marred by injuries and drops had many wondering if LaFell’s NFL career was in decline.
Following his release from the Patriots, LaFell joined the Bengals on a one-year deal and played well in Cincinnati. He became especially valuable when A.J. Green went down with an injury and even though he wasn’t a Pro Bowl player last year, it was a feel-good story for one of the league’s good guys. This offseason, LaFell re-signed in Cincinnati on a two-year deal, though, the Bengals could cut ties with the veteran receiver after this season. What should we expect from LaFell in 2017 as he enters his eighth NFL season?
Position: Wide receiver
College: Louisiana State
Hometown: Houston, TX
Experience: Entering eighth season
Draft status: Third round pick in 2010 by Carolina
This offseason, LaFell signed a two-year, $9,000,000 contract with the Bengals, including $3,300,000 guaranteed. In 2017, LaFell will earn a base salary of $1,250,000, a roster bonus of $3,550,000 and a workout bonus of $200,000, while carrying a cap hit of $5,000,000 and a dead cap value of $3,300,000. The Bengals have a bail out option after this season, but if it’s not used, LaFell’s salary cap hit in 2018 will be $4 million, per Spotrac.
After losing Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency, the Bengals took a one-year flier on the veteran to bring a band-aid to their depleted position group. LaFell had his second-best statistical season in 2016, racking up 64 catches, 862 yards and six touchdown grabs.
This uptick in production was due to a couple of things. Obviously, increased health and a good fit in the system were two major reasons for LaFell’s solid season, but an unfortunate Week 11 injury to A.J. Green was another. Still, even as the Bengals were on playoff life support toward the end of the year, LaFell was a steady presence on offense that was missing Green, Giovani Bernard and, at times, Tyler Eifert.
While LaFell seemingly has the inside track on starting opposite of Green, his production could dip in 2017. Not only do Green and Eifert appear to be ready for healthy returns in training camp, but Tyler Boyd showed growth toward the end of the year, enough to warrant a significant role in this year’s offense.
Throw in rookies John Ross, Joe Mixon and Josh Malone as pass-catching threats, as well as Bernard’s return from an ACL injury, and it’s easy to see how LaFell won’t have the same production this year. Still, in a group littered with inexperienced receivers, LaFell’s veteran presence is welcomed and a big reason why he was re-signed this year.
The wide receiver position is one of the most heated position battles to watch this summer. Even so, it’s the bottom part of the group that has a a number of guys clamoring for a spot, not the top tier where LaFell seems to reside on this year’s squad.
While 2018 may be a completely different story for the grizzled veteran, we think he’ll be on the field often for this year’s squad and is close to a roster lock.
Roster Odds: 97 percent.