The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the only team in the AFC North that has had issues keeping its tight ends on the field. In fact, it’s a very common problem if you look around the league. It’s becoming difficult to get 16 games out of a high-volume starter. But has there been anyone with worse fortune than Tyler Eifert?
The former first-rounder for the Cincinnati Bengals has sat out as many games as he has played in over the course of his five-year career, becoming such a concern that the team was only willing to re-sign him on a one-year deal laden with incentives.
He had a third operation on his back after playing in only two games this past year and did not work throughout the offseason, beginning training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform List, but he was finally able to pass a physical yesterday and join his teammates on the practice field.
A few days ago, Eifert declared that he was “100 percent sure” that he would be in the starting lineup for the Bengals’ season opener. Of his stint on the PUP List, he said that there was no setback, that he was feeling good, and that “this is just the route we chose to take”.
It’s hard not to overreact to health issues when you are dealing with a player who has missed so much time over the course of his career because of a number of injuries, some of them reoccurring. Eifert’s back issues in particular are a concern. To assume that now everything will be fine is dangerous.
And the Bengals’ contract with their talented tight end made it clear that they are well aware of that. Cincinnati has gotten by with Tyler Kroft as their primary tight end for much of the past two years, especially last season, during which he caught seven touchdown passes. The team has even talked about a contract extension for the fourth-year player.
Eifert is still largely riding on the waves of his 2015 season, during which he was named a Pro Bowler. Limited to 13 games that year, he caught 52 passes for 615 yards. Solid numbers, but more importantly, he averaged a touchdown a game, scoring 13 that year. He also had five touchdowns in eight games in 2016.
He only caught four passes for 46 yards in the two games he played last season, however, before the team was forced to put him on ice. While he has dealt with this back issue for a while now, he has missed a lot of football, and it’s hard to predict how he will respond. That is what the team will be looking to find out over the next several weeks before the season opener.