Matt Lengel was shocked when he got the call.
Cincinnati had already acquired two tight ends (Tyler Kroft in the third round and C.J. Uzomah in the fifth) during the 2015 NFL draft and the team is clearly focused on rehabilitating Tyler Eifert's shoulder and elbow injuries. What could Cincinnati use from more tight ends?
"I was surprised the Bengals called me because they drafted two tight ends," Lengel said in a story written by Joshua Huff via Kentucky.com. "I was talking to a couple other teams I thought I had a better chance of going to (the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants). As much as you think you have a grasp and understanding of what's going to happen, you really have no idea."
Multiple season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2013 sullied many of his collegiate opportunities, resulting in only 34 career receptions (16 in 2014) for 367 yards receiving and two touchdowns, both of which came in 2011. "After everything I went through, the injuries and stuff like that, it's pretty awesome that when you set personal goals for yourself it's pretty neat to see them come true," he said.
It would seem that Lengel, who stands at six-foot-massive and 272 pounds, is set to become a promising project for Bengals tight ends coach, Jonathan Hayes and destined for the practice squad.
Even if there's evidence regarding an upper-end draft pick failing to make an impression, the Bengals are extraordinarily strong-willed about players selected in the top five rounds; they understandably fear public ridicule with their decision-making process, despite their successes (or maybe they worry about giving up too soon). For that reason, Tyler Kroft makes the 53-man roster and C.J. Uzomah likely joins him. This isn't to suggest Kroft and Uzomah shouldn't make the roster; rather the Bengals will keep three tight ends (not including Ryan Hewitt) and are likely to favor draft picks over college free agents. That said, Uzomah and Kroft have already produced this spring.
Knowing this, Lengel still signed a three-year deal worth $1.575 million -- the standard going rate for college free agents signed after the 2015 NFL draft. There was no signing bonus and no guarantees. If Cincinnati wants to move Lengel to the practice squad, they'll place him through waivers. Once he's cleared, that contract he signed in May will be terminated for a standard contract on the practice squad.
Yet, he might be worth developing. Had he been invited to the 2015 national scouting combine, many of his pro day numbers would have ranked in the top-ten at his position (NOTE: Pro Day numbers tend to be unconfirmed and slightly beneficial to the player in comparison to the Combine).
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Tight end has certain undeniable elements.
Tyler Eifert, supposedly regaining the 15 pounds he says he lost, is coming off a frustrating year saturated with shoulder and elbow injuries. Cleared and recovered from surgery, Cincinnati finally eased him into spring practices. Now he's expecting big things -- especially considering his contract situation:
"I’m hoping for a big year," said Eifert via WANE.com. "We have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Hopefully we can put it together and I can be one of those pieces that helps us win games... I think it is a huge season. The team has to figure out if they want to pick up my fifth-year option. You know, you’re at that point where you are getting closer to a second contract, so I need to start stringing some good seasons together."
The Bengals also signed John Peters while Jake Murphy, who joined the Bengals last November, has turned heads this spring. Add everything together and the formula doesn't seem favorable for Lengel this year.
"I have to fight my butt off to still make a roster," he said via Joshua Huff's story. "I think here I have a good opportunity to do that."