If that’s the case, one of the last plays fans will remember from Eifert’s five-year stay in Cincinnati will be a touchdown pass against the Texans that was called back because Eifert stepped out of bounds before coming back to make the catch.
In some ways, that play sums up Eifert’s career: full of promise but ultimately unfulfilling.
Eifert, whose contract expires after the season, was brilliant when he was healthy, but that was not often. At his best, he was a scoring machine, catching 13 touchdown passes in 2015.
But Eifert’s list of ailments since he arrived in Cincinnati as a first-round pick in 2013 is long.
He missed the final game of his rookie season with a neck injury but made it back for the playoff game. Playing behind Jermaine Gresham, Eifert worked through some injuries that season and was on the injury report for forearm and knee issues.
Prior to the 2014 season, a teammate fell on his shoulder, and Eifert tore his left labrum, which caused him to miss the 2014 preseason.
He badly dislocated his elbow just eight snaps into the 2014 opener and was out the rest of the season. In addition to the dislocation, he tore his brachialis, the muscle that flexes the elbow. He had two surgeries that fall, one to remove scar tissue from his elbow and one for the labrum tear. He spent the season on injured reserve.
He missed three games in 2015 because of neck issues and a concussion.
He played in only eight games last season due to ankle and back injuries. The ankle injury, sustained in the previous season’s Pro Bowl, initially kept him out, but the back injury pushed his season debut back even more. His season ended early after the Bengals were eliminated from playoff contention and Eifert elected to have back surgery.
Eifert had issues with his back entering Notre Dame and had to have surgery during his freshman season. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if Eifert’s back problems will plague him his entire career. When asked about it in June, Eifert admitted that he’ll always have to work around the back issue, and he even gave up golfing, one of his favorite pastimes.
It’s probably time for the Bengals and Eifert to part ways. There’s likely a reason the Bengals, who saved salary-cap room to sign Eifert and Vontaze Burfict to potential extensions, reached a new deal with Burfict but quietly moved on to the season without an extension for Eifert.
The Bengals, perhaps more than most teams, always have one eye on the future. It’s why they were interested in tight end O.J. Howard in the draft this year. There was always the possibility that it wouldn’t work out with Eifert.
If the Bengals are looking at the future, it’s going to be hard for them to devote a large amount of money to Eifert when they could put that money elsewhere. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap will be going into the final years of their contracts in 2018. The Bengals use their rollover cap space as cushion for future extensions, and it would make more sense to use it on Dunlap and Atkins, who are the core of their defensive line.
From the Bengals’ perspective, there likely will be some reluctance to fork over a large amount of money to a tight end who has never played a full season. Eifert’s camp likely would argue that he has already proven himself as a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
If Eifert were to hit the open market, another team in need of a tight end might be more likely to take that risk. In an ideal world, Eifert would have been able to turn his dazzling training camp performance this summer into another big season, but that never materialized.
The Bengals can use this chance to see what Tyler Kroft, who scored two touchdowns against the Browns on Sunday, can do. If Kroft isn’t the answer, they can look at a tight end in the draft again. Eifert can use this time to get healthy without the pressure of a deadline and look for a team that could be a good fit.
Although the Bengals had trouble winning without Eifert in 2016, they’ve been able to move ahead without him this season, with Kroft getting a bigger chunk of the offensive snaps. The best situation for both sides at this point would likely be to part ways.