Why re-signing Tyler Eifert makes sense for Bengals and (maybe) Joe Burrow

CINCINNATI -- Tyler Eifert knows what he wants his life to look like in a few years.

The 29-year-old Cincinnati Bengals tight end wants to live on a good amount of land with his wife and a few kids. He'll trade the grind of preparing for a football season for hunting, fishing and drinking beer. But all of that can wait for at least another year.

Following the first full season of his career, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent is surveying his options for 2020 and beyond. Since the Bengals drafted Eifert in 2013, he has been a viable option when healthy -- but that has been the challenge. He missed 53 games over the past five years because of injuries.

With Eifert looking for a new deal, both sides must decide if continuing their working relationship holds a mutual interest. Even though the numbers could say otherwise, Eifert is sold on what Cincinnati's offense could look like.

"I don't think everyone is seeing the whole picture of what it could be," Eifert said on Dec. 24.

Eifert caught 43 passes for 436 yards and four touchdowns this season, his best since 2015, when he went to the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career.

The numbers show Eifert is the most effective tight end in Cincinnati's passing attack. That could help LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, whom the Bengals could take with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. During Burrow's Heisman season, LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss was fourth on the team in receptions.

And in an interview with the Bengals' team website, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said there are parallels between what Burrow did at LSU and how the Bengals operated during coach Zac Taylor's first season.

"You see a lot of pro passing concepts in their offense and they did a really good job," Callahan told Bengals.com. "But they are things that you see around the league. It's all things that fit very well with what we do and a lot of people do."

However, the Bengals rarely used multiple tight ends despite having four on the active roster for most of the season.

Cincinnati was 24th in percentage of plays featuring two or more tight ends, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Those personnel packages increased when Taylor and Callahan adjusted the scheme during the back half of the 2-14 season, changes that led to an improved rushing attack.

"We'll try to look at their different personnel groupings and where our advantages are at, and how we should play the game to score the most points possible," Taylor said on Nov. 6 as the philosophy started to change.

A combination of a targeted approach and avoiding serious injuries allowed Eifert to be on the field for every game this season. The Bengals generally rested him for at least one practice each week and limited his usage. Despite playing in one more game than he did in 2015, Eifert was on the field for 247 fewer plays.

He credits the health to a consistent strategy that didn't waver during Taylor's first year in Cincinnati.

"Sometimes in years past, it had kind of been the plan," Eifert said of managing his midweek practice load. "But we get to a Wednesday practice and they're like, 'Hey, you're heavy in the game plan, we need to practice.'"

What the Bengals did with Eifert in 2019 could be a blueprint for the best way to use him if the two sides can work out a deal. He ran 260 fewer routes than he did in 2015, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, but had only 10 fewer targets. The Bengals made the most of his time on the field.

And after missing a combined 34 games in the previous three seasons because of injuries, Eifert's health and production could put him in line for a multiple-year contract after he was on a one-year deal worth $4 million.

There is value for both sides to renew the relationship this offseason. And it wouldn't be the first time Eifert has stayed in Cincinnati after flirting with the open market.

"I've had opportunities to go other places and ended up back here," Eifert said. "I enjoy the guys in the locker room. I enjoy our coaches. This isn't the season that we wanted, obviously. It's just a good place to work. I've always thought that."