It’s been a more difficult season than most for NFL injuries, especially for high-profile players.
Two of the biggest stars in the entire league were lost for the rest of the campaign during Week 5 with both J.J. Watt and Odell Beckham Jr. going down. Taking a broader view, the Texans lost Watt and pass-rushing compatriot Whitney Mercilus in the same disastrous drive by the Kansas City Chiefs, while Eli Manning seemingly saw his whole wide receiver corps exit against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Now word comes out of L.A. that persistent back problems will cost the Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert yet again.
The Notre Dame product isn’t a superstar but he was once regarded as one of the league’s best pass-catching tight ends, a rangy 6-foot-6 red-zone nightmare for opposing defenses who snared 13 touchdowns catches in 2015. That’s the good. The bad is that he will now have essentially missed 2 1/2 of his first five NFL seasons due to elbow and ankle injuries, as well as the persistent back problems.
Among coaches in this league, the best ability is often availability; too often Eifert hasn’t been there for Marvin Lewis.
“I think most guys who have had issues with their back, they continue to have issues with their back, particularly when they’re playing competitive sports,” Lewis said when discussing Eifert’s absence a couple of weeks ago. “But you have to learn to hopefully strengthen all the areas around so you minimize that. There are going to be sometimes when it’s not quite right, but most guys are able to get enough relief to get back at it.”
The advice from a non-medical professional speaks to the trickiness of any back injury. It also highlights that the Bengals have probably given up on getting the 2015 version of Eifert again, especially now that Tyler Kroft, a 2015 third-round pick, has started to produce, snaring 14 receptions and two touchdowns as Cincinnati has rebounded from a disastrous 0-3 start. The Bengals have managed to win two straight and get back into the conversation in the AFC North, where Pittsburgh and Baltimore lead the way at 3-2.
Eifert, meanwhile, was on the Left Coast to meet with specialist Dr. Robert Watkins for the kind of diagnosis shopping that never seems to work out for obvious reasons. Searching for a second opinion means the player didn’t like or (to use the more likely word) didn’t accept the first one.
Eifert will need micro-disc surgery, something that requires a four-to-six month recovery time. His 2017 season is shot after playing in only two games.
This will be Eifert’s third different procedure on his back. It comes at the worst time, his walk year.
At just 27 with a six-month recovery time, Eifert will be back up and running for offseason work. He is too talented not to get another opportunity if he wants one. It’s doubtful that will come in Cincinnati, however, unless Eifert plans on handing out a significant hometown discount.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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