The Cincinnati Bengals will hold their first training camp practice tomorrow. From the sounds of it, it doesn’t sound as though former Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert is expected to be on the practice field with the rest of his teammates at that time, and it’s not clear when he might join them.
Eifert, in his fifth season, signed a one-year ‘prove it’ deal with the Bengals after the team declined his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick. He has missed more games than he has played through his first four season, so their hesitation is understandable.
“Hopefully Tyler Eifert can come back and be a factor for us”, said Dick Tobin, the Bengals’ director of player personnel. “I can’t predict the future on that one, but I can testify to the fact that he made a difference when he was up and running for us. We know what he can do if he can get back to that level. I know his full intent is to get back to that level. We’ll see if he can”.
During his closest approximation of a full season outside of his rookie year, he caught 52 passes for 612 yards and 13 touchdowns back in 2015, making the Pro Bowl that season, but he has played in just 10 games since then, including only two contests in 2017.
Back injuries have been one of many ailments plaguing Eifert over the course of his career, and he has now had three procedures done in total, including once in each of the past two years. It’s hard to ever commit long-term to a player dealing with chronic back issues that require surgery.
In the meantime, Cincinnati is reportedly interested in working on an extension for fourth-year tight end Tyler Kroft, who has been the team’s primary starter at the position during the time that Efiert has missed. Though he is not the same sort of pass-catcher, he is a capable blocker.
Last season, Kroft started all 16 games and caught 42 passes for 404 yards and seven touchdowns, which, frankly, they could do a lot worse. Especially considering their offense was really not very good during the 2017 season.
One thing is clear, and that is that they are wisely unwilling to commit to relying upon Eifert at this point. He is operating on a one-year contract for 2018 that is worth $5.5 million. $3 million of that was given to him as a signing bonus, but he has a base salary of just $1 million and can earn another $1 million in per-game roster bonuses. They are also offering him $3 million in incentives based on performance.
It’s a risk worth taking, all things considered. The best-case scenario of course is that he plays so well that he earns all of those incentives. But even if he has a great season, it would be difficult to offer a long-term commitment in 2019.