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2019 NFL Free Agency

THE EIFERT OPTION: Saints Can Upgrade Tight End in Free Agency for a Great Bargain Price — But at What Risk?

Imagine for just a moment if the New Orleans Saints could upgrade their tight end position during this current Off-Season with a player that could be signed for what would be considered a great bargain price by today's economic standards in the NFL.

And not with just any tight end mind you, but with a 28-year veteran and former 1st Round NFL draft pick that was also a former 1st-Team All-American tight end at the famous University of Notre Dame college football program and the 2012 John Mackey Award winner after being chosen as the nation's best tight end that year.

Would that not be an exciting prospect for anyone who considers themselves to be a Saints fan right now? 

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The answer of course would be a resounding "yes" — but once the realization finally hits about just WHICH player that it is who we're actually talking about, very likely would lead that person to have a sudden change of heart.

The player is current Cincinnati Bengals starting #1 tight end Tyler Eifert; who in just a little less than 2 weeks from today, will be an unrestricted Free Agent.

Eifert is expected to draw interest from a handful of NFL teams and the Saints are one of them, as a a relatively young but experienced veteran at the tight end position who over the course of his career, has scored 21 touchdowns.

Unfortunately however, there's a slight catch; which is that in his six years at Cincinnati, Eifert has never played a full 16-game season for the Bengals.

In fact, he's only come close to pulling it off one time.

And to be rather blunt and completely honest: the only reason that any smart NFL team's front office management is going to give this guy a big contract in Free Agency is that when healthy, Eifert is actually one of the best young tight ends in the entire sport of Pro Football.

Photo courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer

There’s no question about it that when he is fully healthy, it’s hard to find a tight end in this year’s Free 2019 NFL Free Agency Class who is any more dynamic than Eifert, who will turn age 29 in September.

Eifert’s biggest problem has always been that he can’t seem to ever stay on the field long enough to make a lasting impact.

Not to joke about or make light of Eifert's extensive injury issues, but it has to be said: this guy practically is a walking and talking M*A*S*H unit.

Just take into consideration how many "bad breaks" that Eifert has had happen to him with regard to injuries, since he entered into the NFL as the Bengals 1st Round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft (the 21st overall pick) just 6 years ago.

Sep 30, 2018 Pedal Ankle Fracture - Eifert missed the final 12 games on IR.

Sep 14, 2017 Back Vertebral Disc Bulge - Eifert needed another surgery on his back and missed the remainder of the season.

Sep 14, 2017 Knee Strain Grade 1 - Eifert underwent surgery to remove a cyst.

Dec 18, 2016 Back Lower Lumbar Strain Grade 2 - Eifert hurt his back late in Week 15. He missed the final 2 games and later underwent surgery.

Oct 4, 2016 Back Vertebral Bruise - Eifert missed 2 games.

Jan 31, 2016 Pedal Ankle Ligament Tear Grade 3 - Eifert was injured in the Pro Bowl and missed the first 6 games of the 2016 season.

Dec 13, 2015 Head Cranial Concussion Grade 1 - Eifert returned from his neck injury only to leave with a concussion on his second reception of Week 14. He missed the rest of Week 14 and sat out 2 more games.

Nov 29, 2015 Cervical Neck Stinger - Eifert missed 1 game.

Sep 7, 2014 Arm Elbow Tear - Eifert dislocated his right elbow in Week 1 and missed the rest of the season.

Aug 14, 2014 Shoulder Labrum Tear - Eifert missed three preseason games with a left shoulder injury that eventually required surgery.

Dec 22, 2013 Shoulder - Eifert suffered a shoulder stinger in the 1st quarter against the Vikings. He missed Week 17.

The 6-foot-6, 255 pound Eifert has quite literally spent more than half of his career on the sidelines. He's missed a total of 53 out of a potential 96 regular season games due to a wide variety of injuries.

He’s suffered everything from a concussion, several stingers, a severe elbow injury and a torn labrum, an ankle surgery, multiple disc repairs in his back, a clean-up procedure in his knee, and then last season: a grotesque broken right ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve following Cincinnati’s Week #4 win at Atlanta against the Falcons.

And yet amazingly, despite all of the wide variety of different injuries, surgeries and rehabilitation, Eifert has never considered retiring.

In his 3rd NFL season back in 2015, Eifert had 13 touchdowns and was virtually unstoppable in the red zone. However, since that time in the last three seasons combined, Eifert has only played in 14 games (out of a possible 48) with two starts.

With Eifert’s career appearing to be in serious jeopardy should he sustain another injury, it means that he’ll more than likely be willing to sign a contract with minimal guarantees if he and an interested team (the Saints, perhaps?) can negotiate an incentive-based deal.

However, it just seems like too big of a risk for the Black and Gold to take.

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

And then once you take into consideration to how Saints front office brass (general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton) have been “burned” in recent Off-Seasons with other injured players in Free Agency such as Jairus Byrd, C.J. Spiller, Coby Fleener, and most recently with Cam Meredith just last year, it might be considered a bit foolish by some observers to even consider giving Eifert a deal that he might not ever be able to fulfill.

But could Eifert's obvious talent and likely bargain asking price for his services convince Saints brass to take another gamble, especially considering how close they currently are to winning a Super Bowl???

This is after all a young man that is only 28 years old and seems to have "a lot of fuel still left in the tank", figuratively speaking.

It goes without saying that the best case scenario for New Orleans if they signed him would be that if he didn't sustain any more significant injuries, and is able to stay relatively healthy and begin making the impact normally associated with being a legit NFL starting TE.

Make no mistake about this much: a "healthy" Eifert would potentially take the Saints' passing game to the next level in the best case scenario.

But once you also think about just how very close the Saints currently are to winning another Super Bowl, one has to wonder why if they'd willingly take the risk on spending money for a player that would give them zero guarantees about his health other than what he posted on his Twitter account over a week ago.

In the video, Eifert appears to show no serious set-backs or lingering after-effects from the injury; and it's truly somewhat incredible to see Eifert appear so mobile and extremely agile after his season-ending ankle injury. 

Based on that, you'd almost have to believe that for the right price, it'd be worth taking the risk and making the investment for the Black and Gold.

In a little less than 2 weeks from now, we'll finally find out if Saints brass were actually convinced....

 

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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