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2018 NFL free agency: No franchise tag for Bengals’ Tyler Eifert — what now?

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The Bengals rely on the draft to build their roster, but one of their former first round, Pro Bowl picks is facing free agency. There are major risks and rewards with decisions about Tyler Eifert--what should the Bengals do?

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The Cincinnati Bengals are facing a number of external and internal questions this year, as they attempt to rebound from two straight losing seasons. Marvin Lewis is back with the often-conservative club and because of that, we’re not quite sure how the team will operate as free agency officially kicks off in a week.

One thing is for sure: Mike Brown will be primarily focusing inward and retaining many of his own players over the next few weeks. Of all of the players set to hit the open market, none have both the enigmatic aura and star power of Tyler Eifert.

In the most recent and successful incarnation of the Bengals under Lewis since 2011, the Bengals have relied on the draft to build their teams. Yet, as they attempt to get back to the playoffs this year, they are facing the prospect of losing one of their former first round picks who has a Pro Bowl under his belt.

On a recent episode of The Orange and Black Insider, Scott Schulze and I talked about the options with tight end Tyler Eifert this offseason. Regardless of our preferences, there is a lot to sort out and the decision will reverberate this year.

Facets and statistics for the Bengals to consider with Tyler Eifert:

  • Eifert has missed 42 games in his five-year career, while playing in 41 (both including playoffs).
  • In the past three seasons (and ones where Eifert was the team’s unquestioned top tight end, despite injuries), Eifert has 18 touchdowns in 24 total games played.
  • Of the top-10 tight ends in the NFL, the average per year salary ranges from $7.2-$9.4 million per year.
  • Of the tight ends and H-Backs left on the roster, only Ryan Hewitt (2019) and Cethan Carter (2020) are signed beyond this year.
  • The Bengals have only used two picks on tight ends in the first round in their franchise history (Eifert, Jermaine Gresham).
  • When the Bengals had “the boys back in town” in 2015, Eifert was arguably the best tight end in football, scoring 13 touchdowns in as many games. But, the fact that he, Marvin Jones, A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu were all healthy helped propel Andy Dalton and the Bengals to an 8-0 start and 12-4 finish. Could the same happen with Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Eifert, should he return?

Multi-year deal with massive incentives:

In an ideal world, the Bengals would be able to retain Eifert long-term, while keeping the risk low and allowing the former Pro Bowl tight end to make great money if he performs. But, because of Eifert’s injury history, teams will be very hesitant in giving Eifert a multi-year deal with a lot of guaranteed money (especially Mike Brown and the Bengals).

There are two schools of thought when it comes to this generation’s “No. 85” for the Bengals. The first is that, despite whatever circumstances, Eifert is a guy who cannot be counted on in the future. He’s simply missed too much time for a non-desperate team to throw that all-too-familiar gigantic free agency check.

As we all know, free agency serves as both a major way to improve a team, as well as a cautionary tale for NFL franchises. The latter points to a possibility of a team offering Eifert a ludicrous contract, but we’ll see.

Whether it’s Cincinnati or another team, Eifert’s constant absences and recent issues with his back have to weigh heavily. After all, the talented tight end is averaging just over eight games played per year, and that’s including playoff eligibility.

The Bengals could very well sign Eifert to a longer-term deal, but, as we should expect, it would and should be based on escalators. And, regardless of if other teams offer Eifert a more lucrative deal than the Bengals, it will likely be based on playing time and production incentives.

Franchise Tag no longer an option:

If you’re asking this writer, this was probably the best route for both parties in 2018. On the surface, paying $8.43 million this year for a guy who has missed so much time seems wasteful.

However, if you’re in any kind of sales or incentive-driven job, think of receiving some sort of “promotion” that is highly-lucrative, but completely dependent on your availability. If your sales numbers have dipped because of absences, a contract like this has both positives and negatives.

Also, given the recent news of the team having roughly $36 million in cap space, using some to keep one of their beloved own products seems to make sense.

If you were to really look (probably far too) deeply into Eifert’s Instagram account, you might have been given the impression that the former Pro Bowl tight end wants to stay in Cincinnati for a variety of reasons. Still, money talks and, well, you know.

If you’re asking this writer’s humble opinion, this was the most sensical route for the Bengals to take on a number of fronts. First and foremost is in the team’s attempt, realistic or not, to keep their championship window open a couple of more seasons, as they signed Marvin Lewis to prop said window open.

Obviously, this would have been a risky move for the club. Isn’t that the point with one-year deals though?

However, even though this would have been an expensive venture, it would have provided a one-year “prove-it deal” for their star-crossed tight end. And, in a year where the team needs to address the “meat and potatoes” of their roster in the draft, re-signing Eifert and maintaining both Kroft and Uzomah for 2018 will open up their options late next month.

If you’re wondering why I’ve been using the past tense here, it’s because the deadline to designate a player with this tag has passed. Cincinnati needed to use the tag by 1 p.m. on Tuesday if they were to lock in Eifert for the 2018 season.

Now, the question is if the Bengals aren’t spending money on their best red zone weapon (when healthy) this year, can you trust the team to spend that money elsewhere in outside free agency to improve their team?

What route is/was the best for the Bengals take with Tyler Eifert this offseason? Keep in mind that the options in the poll below are intentionally limited—think of it in the same vein that front offices must use during these spring months.

Poll

What is/was the best route for the Bengals with Tyler Eifert this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Long-term, incentive-laden
    (374 votes)
  • 13%
    Franchise tag
    (84 votes)
  • 25%
    Let him walk
    (157 votes)
615 votes total Vote Now

If you’re unable to join us live here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, as well as on our SoundCloud and YouTube channels, and on iTunes! You can tweet us@BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening!