Most Bengals’ fans assumed that the focus of contract talks at this point in the season would be on another Tyler — Tyler Eifert, who had a career year in 2015 when he caught 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. His longest reception that year was for 31 yards.
But Eifert has had trouble staying on the field since that time. In 2016, injuries limited Eifert to eight games, and his production dropped off accordingly as he managed just 29 receptions for 394 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2017, Eifert appeared in the first two games before a back injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. He recorded just four receptions for 46 yards and no touchdowns.
Enter Kroft. The third-year pro from Rutgers exceeded all expectations in 2017 when he recorded 42 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns. His longest reception was 59 yards.
Kroft’s seven touchdowns was sixth best among all NFL tight ends, behind only household names Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Kyle Rudolph, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce. His 42 receptions ranked him No. 21 among all tight ends.
And, on top of everything else, Kroft was one of the better bargains in the league. His base salary of $750,319 was No. 50 among all tight ends, and his cap number for 2018 is a modest $891,000.
To put those numbers in perspective, Kroft had more catches than Miami’s Julius Thomas, who made $6,100,000 this year. Only Jesse James of Pittsburgh and George Kittle of San Francisco had more catches (43) than Kroft while making less money per year. But James had only three touchdowns and Kittle scored twice.
Of those receivers with more touchdown receptions than Kroft, Kelce made $9,336,400 in 2017 and scored eight touchdowns, an average of $1,167,050 per touchdown. Ertz, who made $8,500,000, also scored eight times for an average of $1,062,500 per score.
Gronkowski made $9,000,000 and he eight touchdowns came at an average of $1,125,000 per. Graham had 10 touchdown receptions on his estimated $7,900,000 salary for an average of $790,000 for each touchdown. Rudolph made $7,300,000 and scored eight touchdowns, or $912,500 per touchdown.
Kroft, by comparison, averaged $107,188 per touchdown reception.
Clearly, there was no better bargain in the league last year than Kroft, and he certainly deserves a contract that will pay him what he deserves. And, as we have seen all too often in the past, if Cincinnati does not do so, someone else will.