The Bengals had some practice squad guys coming back at tight end in 2019 and Mason Schreck was returning from his injury, but all three of their starters from 2018 were free agents. The question was, will the Bengals bring any of those starters back—and if they did, who would it be?
Well, now the question has been answered and initially, it was in C.J. Uzomah. Once a young player who was billed as very raw and needing development coming out of college, he began to really turn a corner in his professional career last season. Even so, many believe that he still has his best football in front of him.
Let’s take a look at the top-five reasons the signing made sense from the Bengals’ side.
1. Offers versatility in the draft
The Bengals (and most other teams) don’t like to go into the draft with any glaring needs, as that can force them to reach on a player that otherwise they wouldn’t have taken. With that thought in mind, the Bengals needed to sign at least one tight end as they couldn’t go into 2019 with a slew of unproven players at the position.
While they would arguably be worth the 11th pick, the Bengals didn’t want to be forced into taking T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant, as it could cause them to pass on someone they may see as a overall better player at a different position. On top of that facet, every other team would know the Bengals wanted to draft a tight end and would try to trade in front of them for one, which is a similar situation to what happened with Frank Ragnow and the Detroit Lions in the 2018 draft.
2. Offers the ability to still draft a tight end if they want
The deal that Uzomah signed was three years, $18 million. It’s neither too much money, nor is it long enough that it eliminates the option to draft a tight end, if they believe the player is worth it.
If the Bengals think that Fant is the best player at No. 11 and helps the team the most in the long run, this deal (nor the one for veteran Tyler Eifert) does not stop them from making that pick. Uzomah has earned this deal, but he has not shown enough to trust in him as the sole tight end going forward and to not believe the Bengals can’t improve at the position.
3. Keeps a player that still has room to grow
Uzomah is just now entering his prime at 26 years old and still has the potential to outperform this new contract. As mentioned above, he did not have a tight end coach in college and had to learn from other position coaches on both receiving and blocking skills.
With that in mind, it is easy to see why it took him so long to develop into a solid player in the pros. It also suggests that he can continue learning and potentially become a very good to elite player. Most tight ends take a good one or two years to really make an impact in the NFL, and it makes sense that that timeline would be pushed back for a player with minimal positional coaching in college.
4. Fair money for a good player
The contract makes Uzomah around the 16th-highest paid tight end in the league. That is very fair money for a player who had solid production while playing injured for most of 2019.
This is especially the case when you look at the specific players who are making around the same money or more. Former teammate Tyler Kroft is making slightly more on his contract with the Bills, while Uzomah was better able to produce and stay healthy with the Bengals.
Nick Boyle is getting paid the same amount, and while a better blocker, is much less athletic and a worse receiver than Uzomah. The athleticism that Uzomah has for his size is phenomenal and suggests he can be a solid downfield threat in a better scheme.
5. Has a rapport with Dalton
If the Bengals want to be successful in 2019 they have to get Andy Dalton to play as well as he possibly can. With that in mind, the Uzomah signing makes a lot of sense, as he has already established a connection with Dalton over the previous four seasons.
After becoming fully healthy and getting into an offense that better uses his skill-set, Uzomah has a sky-high ceiling for the 2019 season. Making Dalton as comfortable as possible should be the goal for 2019, as they need to evaluate him to figure out what to do when his contract runs out. Giving him back a tight end he is already comfortable with will go a long way in that regard.