It’s not outrageous to say that the Bengals have never invested more in a tight end than they have in C.J. Uzomah. By 2022, when he’s slated to enter free agency once more, Uzomah will have earned over $20 million from the Bengals as a multi-year starter. That’s about the same as Tyler Eifert made in his time in Cincinnati, but the organization never gave Eifert more than a one-year deal.
With Eifert out of the picture now, it’s now or never for Uzomah to captain the tight end position for the Bengals and live up to the sizable contract he signed last year.
Hometown: Suwanee, GA
Experience: six years
In the second year of his three-year contract, Uzomah will take home $4.8M in cash and account for $5,883,333 against the salary cap. The remaining $2,166,667 of his signing bonus and his $1,250,000 roster bonus for this year make up his dead cap hit of $3,416,667 if he were to be cut.
Only one player from the Bengals’ 2014 AND 2015 NFL Draft classes: Uzomah. When he was first drafted, he was the third tight end on a depth chart that featured Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and Ryan Hewitt taking up a spot at the H-back position. The foursome lasted together through the 2017 season and Uzomah saw 671 offensive snaps during those three seasons.
2018 came along and saw Kroft leave in free agency, Hewitt was cut right before the season began, and Eifert was placed on I.R. after four weeks. It was up to Uzomah to carry the load, and that he did.
He eclipsed his career offensive snaps, receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 2018 alone. And he did it whilst playing with a shoulder injury that could’ve held him out for the season.
His production and mental fortitude earned him a second contract with the team that still puts him 14th in the league in terms of average annual value. But 2019 did not turn out the way that Uzomah or the Bengals imagined it would. Uzomah missed six games and was generally uninvolved in the passing game. Even his run blocking looked uninspiring compared to years past, and that hurt the running game more than you’d imagine it would.
*Editor’s note* Uzomah did not miss six games last season, as he played in all 16 games. He only appeared in 10 games back in 2016.
Outlook for 2020
Last year was last year, and for most players in Cincinnati, this year represents a true fresh start. Zac Taylor’s offense wasn’t expected to utilize the tight end position very much last year, but there were a few games where Eifert looked and produced like his old self. Now that Eifert is gone, Uzomah will have the chance to monopolize the production at that position first.
There’s just next to nothing for Cincinnati aside from Uzomah. Last year’s second-round pick Drew Sample was disappointing to say the least and had never shown to be much of a receiving threat in college. Cethan Carter is still here primarily because of special teams, and if any other tight end makes the final roster, the Bengals are sacrificing a better player at another position.
Sample will get his opportunities to prove his worth, but Uzomah is the veteran with actual experience to boot. He’ll be the starter and get the majority of snaps and targets, which gives him the best chance at that position to develop a productive relationship with Joe Burrow.
If the Bengals cut Uzomah, then they’re putting all of their eggs in the Drew Sample basket. Not only is that not going to happen, but it would be a gamble too big even for a team that rarely ventures outside of 11 personnel; where only one tight end sees the field.
Maybe Sample looks extraordinary in whatever the team will be able to do before the season and makes Uzomah expendable. Considering there probably won’t be a preseason for that to happen, it’s a virtual lock that Uzomah stays around for another year.
Roster Odds: 98%