Tyler Eifert

Bengals’ Tyler Eifert Passes Physical

Great news for the Bengals. Tight end Tyler Eifert has passed his physical and has been removed from the offseason PUP list, the team announced on Monday. 

Eifert has been recovering from back surgery and his status for training camp was unclear. During voluntary offseason team activities, he was limited in his participation, but it sounds like he’s on the right track for summer practices and playing in Week 1.

When he’s on the field, Eifert is among the best tight ends in the game. Unfortunately, injuries have defined his career. The 2015 Pro Bowler has missed 51% of the Bengals’ regular season games since 2013. He missed 14 games last season and eight in 2016.

In March, Eifert re-signed with the Bengals for $5.5MM on a one-year deal. Needless to say, this is a pivotal season for Eifert’s future with the Bengals and his overall future in the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Tyler Eifert Uncertain For Training Camp

Although Tyler Eifert received medical clearance early in the offseason, the Bengals are holding the recently re-signed tight end out of minicamp this week. And Marvin Lewis isn’t sure if that setup will change once the team reconvenes in late July for training camp.

Lewis said, via Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, he doesn’t know if Eifert is going to be back by the time training camp begins. He’s recovering from back surgery after back problems defined a second straight season. Eifert was a limited OTAs participant.

The Bengals’ working out at Paul Brown Stadium could be a factor here. Lewis said the field being redone earlier this month has affected how the team is proceeding with Eifert. It can be expected that Eifert, who re-signed with Cincinnati for $5.5MM on a one-year deal, will return to work at training camp. It’s just not known if the sixth-year tight end will do so from the outset.

There’s no reason to get him jostled,” Lewis said. “Just ease his way into things. No setback. We’re trying to make sure we manage everything they want him to do.”

Health’s obviously been the defining component in Eifert’s NFL career, and he’s at a career crossroads because of it. The 2015 Pro Bowler has missed 51 percent of the regular-season games during his Bengals run. He missed 14 games last season and eight in 2016.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Packers, Q. Diggs, Conner

We heard last month that the Packers would be going “back to Page 1” of their playbook, but as Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, Green Bay is not going to be making any wholesale changes to its offense. In light of all of the new voices on the offensive side of the ball this year — Joe Philbin is back as OC, Frank Cignetti Jr. is in as quarterbacks coach, and there are several other staff changes besides — it made sense for all involved to thoroughly review the team’s play design and philosophy. But as Philbin said, “It’s been a process of refining, enhancing, tweaking, as opposed to, ‘Yeah we scrubbed it down.’ Yes, we went page by page. (But) we’re not starting from scratch here. These players in that locker room, they’ve done some great things.” 

Philbin, of course, is primarily referring to star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers indicated that verbiage has changed — and Philbin acknowledged that such changes were made in order to streamline the playcalling — and that has created something of a learning curve. But passing game Jim Hostler said that the goal is for the offense to look the same as it always has with Rodgers under center, even if there are some refinements and enhancements here and there.

Now for more from the league’s north divisions:

  • Opposing defenses were already treating Packers WR Davante Adams as the team’s No. 1 wideout last season, so the departure of Jordy Nelson will not represent much of a change in that regard, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. But Green Bay has not (yet) signed a veteran wideout to replace Nelson, so Adams will need to take on a more active role in terms of leadership. The Packers drafted three receivers this year — one each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds — and return 24-year-old Geronimo Allison as the presumed No. 3 WR on the depth chart, so Adams is suddenly the second-oldest player in the wide receiver room. He was not present for the start of OTAs, which caused some concern in light of his concussion history, but neither player nor team seem concerned about his availability. Head coach Mike McCarthy simply said Adams is “battling a couple things,” presumably minor injuries.
  • Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com says Quandre Diggs has a real chance to permanently supplant Tavon Wilson as the Lions‘ starting strong safety in 2018. Diggs, a former sixth-round selection, played well in that role last season, and Rothstein suggests he may even be the favorite to start at this point. Miles Killebrew, a former fourth-round choice, appears to be on the outside looking in and may need to continue to stand out on special teams to retain his roster spot.
  • James Conner, a feel-good story and 2017 third-round choice, is featuring prominently in Steelers‘ OTAs due to Le’Veon Bell‘s continued absence, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes. Conner showed flashes in his rookie campaign, which ended with a Week 15 MCL tear, but if he can cement himself as the team’s No. 2 back behind Bell this season — and he will need to improve in pass protection in order to do so — that could be the first step towards a starting job in 2019, depending on Bell’s contract situation.
  • John Ross is once again a full participant in the Bengals‘ OTAs, as Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer observes. Although Ross dropped a few passes, he also made some difficult grabs and is seeing a lot of passes come his way. Tyler Eifert, meanwhile, is a limited participant, but having both players involved at the beginning of full team work is a beautiful thing for Cincinnati fans.
  • Neil Stratton of InsideTheLeague.com (via Twitter) details a few more changes to the Browns‘ scouting department that were not covered several days ago.

North Rumors: Bengals, Lions, Packers

Some more clarity regarding Tyler Eifert‘s incentive-laden Bengals contract emerged. The tight end’s deal contains some interesting benchmarks for financial rewards, ones that would seemingly be within reach should Eifert stay healthy. The sixth-year tight end has $3MM in possible performance incentives included in his one-year agreement. Additionally, $62.5K will come Eifert’s way for every game he plays.

As for the performance thresholds, Eifert will collect $250K for catching 50 passes in 2018. The former first-round pick getting to 55 receptions would bring another $250K his way, with the 60- and 65-catch barriers representing $250K triggers as well. Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports these catch incentives max out at $1MM, adding the yardage bonuses do as well. The 500-yard mark represents the first $250K trigger, with the next $250K bonus benchmarks coming at 550, 600 and 650 yards, per Owczarski. As for touchdown receptions, Eifert snaring five would bring him $250K. Each additional touchdown would bring him $250K apiece as well, and this incentive category also maxes out at $1MM.

Eifert scored a tight ends-best 13 TDs in 2015 but only has five since. He only exceeded 500 yards once (in ’15, with 615 yards) and caught a career-high 52 passes that year. He didn’t come close to 50 catches in a season in any other year, so describing these as “likely to be earned” incentives is pushing it.

Here’s the latest from some North-division franchises, continuing with news from the Cincinnati offensive front:

  • Cedric Ogbuehi may be shuttled back to right tackle, a position at which he previously said he wasn’t comfortable. The former first-round pick will compete with both Cordy Glenn and Jake Fisher for the starting tackle jobs, per Marvin Lewis (via Owczarski), but the 16th-year coach said the team expects Glenn to start on the left side. Ogbuehi has started 25 games over the past two years but has dealt with injuries in both, and each season involved him being in a rotation rather than being a full-time player throughout each campaign. Owczarski notes it’s unlikely the Bengals pick up his fifth-year option, which is expected to be for nearly $10MM.
  • Speaking of northern line movement, the Lions plan to try Graham Glasgow at center instead of guard, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reportsWesley Johnson could be set for a backup job. Birkett writes free agent Kenny Wiggins and 2016 fifth-rounder Joe Dahl will compete for at the guard spot opposite T.J. Lang. Wiggins started 16 games for the Chargers at right guard last season. However, Glasgow — who rated as Pro Football Focus’ No. 20 guard last season — may stay at guard if the Lions deem Johnson solid enough to start at center. Johnson is only making $880K this season, which would gibe with backup status.
  • Both Ziggy Ansah and wideout T.J. Jones underwent offseason surgeries, per Birkett, who describes Ansah’s as a “minor cleanup” on his knee. Jones had a shoulder operation. Birkett adds Kerry Hyder‘s return goal is training camp. The defensive lineman tore his Achilles’ tendon last season.
  • Ansah remains in Ghana for family reasons, but Justin Rogers of the Detroit News tweets the franchise-tagged defensive end has kept Matt Patricia and the organization in the loop and is expected to return to the team shortly. Birkett writes Ansah could sign his franchise tender as early as the spring rather than having this drag into July. The Lions are not expected to pursue a long-term extension with their top pass rusher at this point.
  • The Packers shook up their offensive coaching staff this offseason, and it sounds like their playbook will reflect that. While refusing to divulge specifics, Mike McCarthy said recently (via Pete Daugherty of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) the team will “go back to Page 1” of the playbook. Joe Philbin, Jim Hostler and Frank Cignetti are now key offensive assistants, so their input may well be reflected in these changes.

Rams Pursued Bengals TE Tyler Eifert

Tyler Eifert is back with the Bengals, but he garnered interest elsewhere in free agency before re-signing. Eifert’s decision ultimately came down to the Bengals and the Rams, Jim Owczarski of The Enquirer reports. 

But at the end of the day I knew where I wanted to be, which was with the Bengals,” the tight end said. “From the beginning, I told everyone that it would take something pretty special for me to leave. It would have to be an obvious decision.”

The Rams made Eifert a strong offer, but the Bengals pounced on their opportunity to match. The tight end’s new one-year deal is worth $5.5MM, but performance incentives could allow him to earn roughly $8.5MM in 2018. If Eifert plays in all 16 games, something that he has not done in his career and hasn’t come close to doing since 2015, he can add $1MM to his bank account. He can then earn an extra $3MM via receptions, receiving yards and touchdown incentives.

I felt like I owed that to the organization, to Mr. Brown, to coach Lewis and to the fans, especially the way the first five years of my career have gone; up and down,” Eifert said of rejecting L.A.’s overtures. “I felt like (I had to) to keep them in the loop. I knew that’s where I wanted to be, so I’m happy about that.”

Eifert would have been a risky, but potentially rewarding, addition for the Rams. Of course, L.A. is not lacking for star power after adding notables like Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and, most recently, wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Tight end remains a need for L.A., but they can find support for current depth chart topper Tyler Higbee in the draft later this month.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Contract Details: Crabtree, Williamson

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

Bengals To Re-Sign Tyler Eifert

Tyler Eifert will not be leaving Cincinnati. Instead, the Bengals will hang onto him via one-year deal, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

Injuries have limited Eifert for much of his career, but when he’s been available, he’s been one of the NFL’s top red zone threats. The Bengals appear to be keen on seeing if their former first-round pick can stay healthy.

Entering his age-28 season, Eifert has missed 41 of a possible 80 regular-season games since coming to Cincinnati. He missed 14 games last season and eight in 2016. But his 2015 work likely garnered him this opportunity from the continuity-centric organization. Eifert amassed 615 air yards and scored 13 touchdowns — the most by any tight end that season. And Eifert missed three games that year.

Doctors cleared Eifert to resume work a few weeks ago after his October back surgery, however. But the Bengals weren’t showing much interest in retaining their injury-prone pass-catcher at that point. Now, one of the top tight ends (ability-wise) is off the market.

While Eifert’s injury trouble may make it difficult for any team to count on him in the near future, or if he’s back on the market a year from now, he’ll have another chance to show the kind of ability he did three years ago. This season figures to be crucial for the Notre Dame product through that lens.

[RELATED: Bengals Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Top 25 Remaining NFL Free Agents

Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders. 

2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.

3. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson may have lost some luster following the trade that sent him from the Jets to the Seahawks, but he among the best defensive tackles currently available. With plenty of cap space remaining, Richardson should find a lucrative deal, though it probably won’t come from Seattle. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will fetch about $9MM/year.

4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.

5. Josh Sitton, G (Bears): With Andrew Norwell off of the board, Sitton stands as the best guard on the market. He’s missed six games over the last two years, but he has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. He’s set to meet with the Dolphins.

6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]

7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inking Aaron Colvin.

8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.

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PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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AFC North Notes: Bengals, Ravens, Steelers

Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert has missed 41 of 80 potential regular season games due to concussions, stingers, an elbow injury, a torn labrum, ankle surgery, disc repairs, and a knee issue. As he approaches free agency, he tells Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer that “everything is fixed.” Teams, of course, will be taking a thorough medical look at Eifert before extending him any offers. The 27-year-old Eifert is arguably the most talented free agent tight end available, but his injury history will put a ceiling on his market. PFR’s Zach Links recently ranked Eifert as the third-best available tight end, behind Trey Burton and Jimmy Graham.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Pending Colts free agent wide receiver Donte Moncrief could be a fit for the Ravens, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Baltimore could certainly use help at wideout, as the club ranked 26th in passing DVOA a season ago and could be poised to lose several contributors over the coming weeks. Mike Wallace is scheduled to hit free agency next Wednesday, while fellow veteran pass-catcher Jeremy Maclin has been mentioned as a candidate for release. Moncrief, meanwhile, has been limited by injuries over the past two seasons, but is only 24 years old and managed a 64/733/6 line as recently as 2015. Per Rapoport, Moncrief is likely to sign a one-year deal, which makes sense given his limited record of recent production.
  • Speaking of the Ravens, center Ryan Jensen is expected to garner a “nice” deal in free agency, and it’s unclear if Baltimore will be able to re-sign him, as Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun writes. Jensen is one of the top free agent centers on the market, but he only has one full season of starting experience. Still, his youth (age 26) should allow him to land a multi-year pact in a free agent market short on interior lineman. Meanwhile, receiver Michael Campanaro has already generated interest around the NFL based on his route-running and special teams prowess, per Zrebiec.
  • Given that Le’Veon Bell doesn’t seem amenable to a long-term contract that pays less than $15MM annually, the Steelers are now forced to plan for life after Bell, opines Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Bell was assigned the franchise tag for the second consecutive season, but Pittsburgh should look at running backs in the 2018 draft as a hedge against Bell returning to Pittsburgh in 2019. Of course, the Steelers did use a third-round pick on running back James Conner in last year’s draft, but he handled only 32 carries on the season before going down with a knee injury.