The best way for teams to protect themselves from the possible negative consequences of signing injury-prone players—aside from actually avoiding signing said players—is to limit their contracts to one-year deals. Time and again, we see players returning from injury signing contracts for just one season, designed to aid both sides, protecting the team and giving the player the opportunity to prove himself while hitting the market again.
That is where the Cincinnati Bengals are with tight end Tyler Eifert, who has already demonstrated the ability to perform at a Pro Bowl level in his career, but has spent so little time on the field since then that it’s fair to question when or whether he will be able to return to that form.
So the two sides worked out a one-year deal following a 2017 season in which Eifert played in just two games following a recurrence of a back injury that resulted in him undergoing a third surgery on it. In fact, he has only played in 10 games over the past two years, since his Pro Bowl season of 2015, in which he played 13 games.
And then injured his ankle playing in the Pro Bowl, an injury that caused him to miss the first six weeks of the 2016 season.
The contract that Eifert signed is reportedly worth up to $8 million for the 2018 season, which is good money considering his circumstances, but if he has a healthy year and returns to his Pro Bowl form, he will have the opportunity to cash in near the top of the tight end market in 2019.
During the 2015 season, he recorded 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns, doing so in only 13 games. Over a full 16-game season, those numbers would prorate to 64 receptions for 757 yards and 16 touchdowns. While his receptions and yardage is no longer eye-popping for the position, his production in the end zone—and in the red zone—is certainly attention-grabbing.
With the number of ailments that he has been through, both before and especially since his Pro Bowl season in 2015, however, one must seriously wonder if he is still capable of being that same player. In eight games in 2016, he did catch 29 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns.
But the problem is that he has missed more games in his career than he has played in—literally. Over the span of his five seasons, he has missed 41 games, playing in 39. He missed 14 games last year, and 15 games in his second season. He has never played a 16-game season.
While he was medically cleared several weeks ago, it goes without saying that he has a lot to prove as he returns to the field this season; not just simply if he is healthy, but if he can continue to play at the high level that he has hinted at in the past.