Bengals Have To Decide If Pending UFA Tyler Eifert’s Injury History Is Worth Long-Term Risk

You may have read yesterday evening that talented Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert determined that he would undergo surgery on his back, which will end his 2017 season after playing in just two games, catching four passes for 46 yards.

It goes without saying that losing the 2015 Pro Bowler is a big blow for a Bengals offense that is still trying to find its way, though it has seen improvements over the course of the past three weeks under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

The Bengals’ other three primary tight end have combined for 17 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns, with the vast majority of that coming from Tyler Kroft, who was drafted in the third round in the same year that the Steelers took Jesse James.

Kroft is a solid player, but is not a full-time starter as a number one tight end—or at least he shouldn’t be. But the Bengals will have an important decision to make this offseason when it comes to their number one spot, because Eifert is going to be an unrestricted free agent.

A first-round draft pick in 2013, the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option this season rather than signing him to a new contract, so he had been playing under that option this season. It was a cautious decision based on his history, and certainly an understandable one.

You see, through five seasons in his career—that is, 80 games—he is now guaranteed to have only played in 39 of them. I ran out of fingers and toes trying to figure that out, but I feel like that is less than half.

Eifert also does not have a typical injury history. This is the third procedure that he will have on a lingering back injury. Any team that is going to look to sign him is going to be extremely cautious about bringing him in, and he may well have to take on an unfavorable contract simply because he has not proven that he can be healthy.

Only twice in his five seasons has he played more than half of the team’s games. He played in 15 as a rookie, and then 13 during his Pro Bowl campaign in 2015, where he caught 72 passes, of which 13 were touchdowns. He injured his ankle in the Pro Bowl, however, and missed the start of the 2016 season, only to end up on injured reserve with a recurrence of his back problem, limited to eight games.

There had been for years a rich hypothetical debate among Steelers fans about whom the team should have drafted instead of Jarvis Jones. The popular answer for a while had been Eifert. Now, given the choice between the two, I think many would change their minds because of the injuries.

Of course, the right answer to the question is Xavier Rhodes.

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