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Weighing the tough decision on Tyler Eifert

When healthy, Tyler Eifert is a Pro Bowl player. But, have the Bengals run out of patience with the talented tight end?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the last images Bengals fans conjure up of Tyler Eifert is in the picture attached to this article. The Pro Bowl tight end was finally healthy to start the 2018 season and had made an early impact on the offense.

In fact, in the first half against the Atlanta Falcons, Eifert had scored a touchdown to aid an eventual Bengals victory in a shootout. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down once again with a broken ankle suffered by No. 85 in the early part of the third quarter. Eifert didn’t suit up for the rest of the season and Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the same without him.

Last offseason, the Bengals made a wise decision to give Eifert a one-year “prove it deal”, laden with incentives. It was exactly the kind of contract needed for both parties: if Eifert succeeded, it would have led to another big deal, as well as it probably pointing to good things for the Bengals offense. Had he gotten injured again (and did), the team wasn’t strapped with a lot of wasted money.

But, even with a new coaching regime in place, the Bengals and Eifert are at a similar crossroads again in 2019. The former first round pick has enough talent to tempt any team to offer him a deal, but 2015 and the last half of 2016 (AKA the last times he was regularly productive) seem like an eternity ago.

So, should Eifert be in the team’s free agency plans once again this spring?

Pros for retaining Eifert

Andy Dalton is a much better quarterback with Eifert in the lineup: One of the main criticisms against Dalton as a potential franchise quarterback is in his needing of a lot of surrounding talent. While there is evidence to support both sides of that argument, there is no denying that No. 14 plays at a much higher level when Eifert is on the field.

There are a couple of reasons for this, including the fact that some of Dalton’s biggest strengths is his accuracy on the short and intermediate passes. Another is Eifert’s crazy catch radius, making difficult grabs seem routine.

The fact is that the Pro Bowl tight end, through all of his injuries, is basically averaging a touchdown catch in every other game he has played in the NFL (49%; 66% of his starts). Eifert has also accounted for 11% of Dalton’s total NFL touchdown passes, which is really saying something because of both the accrued injuries and his joining with the Bengals two years after his quarterback.

It should be relatively cheap to keep him: If last year’s one-year, $5.5 million deal with just $3 million of it guaranteed was palatable, 2019 should provide an even more affordable option. There is risk because of past injuries and his current rehab process, but the deal Eifert signs this offseason could be his last shot to prove himself to a team.

In terms of length and money, there might be comparable numbers, but it really isn’t relative. That would be because the salary cap has inflated by $11 million from last year to this one. If they feel good about where he is at in his rehabilitation and he will accept a similar deal, it’s probably worth one more shot.

Eifert provides the skill set needed in today’s NFL: In a pass-happy league, slot and red zone weapons are at a premium for offenses. When a team can employ a 6’6” guy with a skill set of a wide receiver (4.68 speed and great hands), you utilize said weapon at every opportunity.

With the respect to the quality skill sets of A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, neither bring the size and types of mismatches that Eifert does when healthy. And, when he’s not catching passes, he often opens things up for the two aforementioned wideouts.

Zac Taylor’s offense should feature a lot of play-action, as that was a staple in L.A. If so, that could be a lethal usage of Eifert going forward.

It sounds like he’s willing to come back to Cincinnati: When he was asked about his future with the team back in January after it was known that Lewis wasn’t coming back to the Bengals, Eifert seemed open to the idea, but didn’t quite know how the Bengals feel.

“I’d be up to staying here. Yeah. It would have to depend a little bit (on the new offensive coordinator),” Eifert said two months ago. “You have to weigh all the factors.”

It’s been an up-and-down ride to start the Zac Taylor era. Throw in the fact that the Bengals are a team adverse to free agent spending and that outside player just may not have Cincinnati high on their list and you’re almost at a spot where you take what you can get.

If he’s willing to come back on a deal where he gambles on himself again and it doesn’t hamper the Bengals, it might be wise to give him one final shot at contributing.

Give him a shot in Taylor’s offense: The Rams’ offense wasn’t one that heavily featured tight ends (more on that in a minute), but Taylor and Sean McVay didn’t have a talent like Eifert in Los Angeles. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett were nice ancillary pieces, but don’t strike fear into an opposing defense like No. 85.

Like a couple of other players holding over from the Marvin Lewis era (Dalton, John Ross), Eifert deserves a shot in a new system designed to score points. Injury will always be a risk with him, but Taylor could come up with some lethal plays for a weapon he just hasn’t had at the pro level. It just might net one of Eifert’s most productive seasons in the NFL.

Cons for re-signing Eifert

Does he fit in Zac Taylor’s new system? As mentioned above, tight ends weren’t the feature players in the Rams’ offense. Taylor plans to being a similar iteration of that system to Cincinnati, which is one where Higbee and Everett combined for just 57 total catches in 2018.

We can talk about and hope for a plan by Taylor to implement a talent like Eifert, but the fact of the matter is that maybe his system just prefers to use the talents of speedy wideouts. There will be differences, to be sure, but so much so that the tight end becomes the No. 2 passing option, as has largely been the case when he was healthy?

Is he worth another shot? We can talk about how Eifert could be had for a reasonable deal, given his injuries, but the money isn’t the only caveat to consider when re-signing him. The main factor could be in how heavily you rely on the guy if you re-sign him.

Obviously, when you sign a player, you have a vision for the on your team. With Eifert, there are packages and route trees that would most definitely be designed for him, but what if he suffers yet another injury and those plans fall apart?

Just because Taylor is in the fold, does that mean the offense would be much more stable than under Lewis sans Eifert? And, if that is the case, what does that say about his overall value?

How healthy is he and will he be at the start of the season? Recently, Eifert took to his Instagram account to show some workouts and the progress of his healing ankle. It looked pretty good and he seems to have decent mobility, as we sit here in early March.

Still, we’ve seen Eifert go through the offseason while rehabbing injuries and suffer setbacks. He claims that he has learned how to properly rehab an ankle after the Pro Bowl debacle in January of 2016, but we see better than we hear.

For now, the eyes are telling us that he’s feeling good. We’ll see if that’s still the case when training camp rolls around.

Would he need to be on a “pitch count” if he’s re-signed? One idea that could work with Eifert is that of limiting his snaps every game. It’s a a double-edged sword because it obviously reduces the risk of injury, but it also reduces the overall effectiveness of his impact on the offense.

So, do you bring him back maybe knowing that he’ll need to be leashed, or do you give him the full arsenal of plays and hope that both ankles and back injuries were flukes? If you do feel like you need to limit his snaps, the question again must be asked about the worthiness of signing a player like that.

What do you think?


What should the Bengals do about re-signing Tyler Eifert this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    Re-sign him
    (986 votes)
  • 7%
    Let him walk
    (85 votes)
  • 9%
    On the fence
    (115 votes)
1186 votes total Vote Now