Cincinnati Bengals

Have we seen last of Tyler Eifert in Bengals uniform?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 14: Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) prior to the National Football League game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on November 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Tyler Eifert could miss a prove-it season in the final year of his rookie contract.

The former Pro Bowler will spend the rest of the year on injured reserve if he chooses to undergo season-ending surgery to fix a lingering back injury. That decision could have significant ramifications in future contract negotiations with the Cincinnati Bengals and other interested teams. There’s no ignoring the possibility that the oft-injured tight end could be lighter in the wallet in 2018.

Health has been an ongoing problem for Eifert, who has never played in all 16 games in a season. He has played in only 10 games the last two years, following a 2015 season when he looked like one of the top three tight ends in the NFL. His season was cut short in 2016 with a back injury, and the same could be true five games into this season with another injury.

The Bengals will soon have to decide if handcuffing themselves to Eifert with a big contract is wise considering his injury history.

Backup tight end Tyler Kroft’s sudden emergence could also factor into that equation. The 24-year-old former third-round pick has looked sensational so far this season. While Eifert is clearly the more talented player, Kroft could be a steal if he’s able to produce consistently.

“[Kroft] had a [good game] in Green Bay, but he’s the guy in that spot,” Bengal head coach Marvin Lewis told ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. “If it was Tyler Eifert, chances are the ball would go to him. But Tyler Kroft is showing that he’s every bit as good a receiver. He’s done a good job on the line blocking. And now, when his number is called in the passing game — when the coverage dictates the ball should go to him — he’s shown that he can be in the right spot and come up with a contested catch.”

Eifert’s asking price at the negotiating table will ultimately decide if he still has a future in Cincinnati.

Considering the amount of fixing the Bengals need, it might actually benefit them to forgo tying up Eifert on an expensive, long-term deal. The greatest stat on a sheet is availability, and Kroft was on the field more last season than Eifert in the last two years.

Moving on is definitely worth considering for the Bengals.

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