In football, it’s been said that one’s greatest attribute is simple availability. It’s a mantra handed down from Paul Browns and echoed today by old-school head coach Marvin Lewis, and many times the proof is in the pudding.
Two of the Cincinnati Bengals’ best players in recent history, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and tight end Tyler Eifert, have unfortunately not exuded this trait for varying reasons.
After spending a first round selection on Eifert in 2013 and seeing him make the Pro Bowl in 2015, the club has an enormous decision to make this offseason. Bet on a guy who has never played a full regular season in five years to produce as he has in the rare occasions he’s been healthy, or let him walk, save money and potentially see him shine elsewhere?
It’s not an enviable position for the Bengals’ front office and fans seem to be torn on the issue. However, unlike many of the other nine Bengals free agents set to hit the market, there are a couple of plausible routes to take with Eifert this offseason.
2017 production recap:
Eifert started the year behind the eight ball, as he had an offseason procedure to work on his back. Issues piled up and snowballed from there, as he played in just two games in 2017.
He played in the first two games against the Ravens and Texans, both losses and racked up four catches for 46 yards. It definitely wasn’t the output Eifert was hoping for during a year in which the Bengals exercised his fifth-year option, and one proceeding him hitting free agency.
Franchise tag information, 2017 contract figures and perceived market value:
2017 positional tag number: $9.78 million
2018 franchise tag possibility: Yes
2017 contract numbers: Final year of five-year rookie contract, $4.782 million in 2017
2018 perceived market value (per Spotrac): Four years, $30.44 million, $7.1 million per year average salary (in line with recent contracts to Zach Ertz, Kyle Rudolph, Coby Fleener and Charles Clay).
2018 outlook and chances of re-signing:
Cincinnati hasn’t traditionally valued positions like offensive guard, safety or tight end. That’s why is was a surprise to see them take two tight ends in the first round in a four-year span, after using just one previous type of designation at the position in their history.
Eifert is a frustrating player to have on your team. You know what kind of explosiveness he can provide when healthy, he’s a quality locker room guy and he’s theoretically in the prime of his career.
Still, when you’ve missed more games than played (he suited up for just 41 of 83 total games, including the playoffs) and the amount of missed games (42) is more than double that of touchdowns you’ve amassed, that’s a problem. Now, Eifert is attempting to return from a nagging back issue after three back surgeries in his football career.
Call it a hunch, but I think Eifert would prefer to stay in Cincinnati if they offer him a fair deal. As big of a reach as this may sound, Eifert published a recent video on his Instagram account, in which he was attending a local area high school basketball game with tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. Does it subtly point to something?
If the Bengals don’t use the money on Eifert this offseason, do you truly trust Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis to allocate those funds elsewhere in free agency to improve the team? I don’t.
Chances of re-signing: 50 percent
Chances of being franchise tagged: 20 percent