Coming off a 12-4 season, the Cincinnati Bengals were looking for a big 2016 season where they could finally help coach Marvin Lewis earn his first playoff victory.
They got some pretty bad news in regards to that quest on Friday, as star tight end Tyler Eifert, who has just recently resumed jogging again, will not be ready for the start of the regular season. Instead, he is targeting a return sometime during Weeks 4-6.
Eifert was the Bengals’ third-leading receiver last season, catching 52 passes for 615 yards in just 13 games. He was also a red zone favorite of quarterback Andy Dalton, leading all Bengals with a whopping 13 touchdown receptions. But Eifert injured his ankle in the Pro Bowl and the injury was bad enough to require a surgical procedure that wiped out his entire offseason. Eifert has vowed to never play in the Pro Bowl again, but that promise, unfortunately, doesn’t help the Bengals at all for 2016.
With the departure of receivers Marvin Jones (Detroit) and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta) via free agency this offseason, Dalton and the Bengals’ offense need Eifert back as soon as possible. How quickly he is able to return could play a large role in the Bengals’ quest to be contenders this season.
The Bengals have a pretty difficult early-season schedule, starting with four of their first six games on the road, with one of those home games coming against the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. A slow start for the team would not be surprising even if Eifert was already fit to take the field.
Given all of this, the sooner Eifert is able to get back into action, the better. And while Week 3 against the Broncos appears to be out of the question, Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins would be a good jumping off point. This would give him a chance to get up to speed vs a lesser opponent and help him prepare for the gauntlet to follow: Week 5 at the Dallas Cowboys and Week 6 at the New England Patriots.
If Bengals fans would like to mine a tiny bit of good news, the Bengals offense didn’t drop off much last season when Eifert didn’t play. With Eifert on the field, the averaged 26.2 points per game. Without him, they managed 26 points per game.
However, that was a team that had Jones and Sanu, in addition to other threats A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. With Jones and Sanu gone, and backup tight end Tyler Kroft also hurt (leaving C.J. Uzomah as the potential starter in Week 1), the pressure will fall on the others, in addition to former Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell, to pick up the slack.
The bad news is that is quite a bit to ask of guys like Uzomah and LaFell. The good news is that the Bengals do have elite talent on offense, and players like Green, Hill and Bernard still give Dalton plenty of quality options at his disposal.
That being said, it would be nice to have that big security blanket back working the middle of the field as soon as possible.