Eight-year veteran Reggie Kelly, considered by most to be the second-best tight end available in the unrestricted market, on Tuesday night agreed to return to the Cincinnati Bengals, ESPN.com has learned.
Kelly will sign a three-year, $9 million contract and, in so doing, he eschewed formal offers from at least three other franchises.
Among the tight ends in the free agent pool, only Daniel Graham of the New England Patriots, who will likely choose between contract offers from Seattle and Denver, was more coveted over the past week.
Despite very ordinary receiving statistics, Kelly, who has been the Cincinnati starter for the past three years, is considered a key to the Bengals offense, and quarterback Carson Palmer lobbied him hard to come back to the club.
Kelly, 29, rarely plays on third down, as Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski prefers three-wide receiver formations in those situations, and that contributes to his blunted statistics.
In eight seasons, Kelly, originally drafted in the second round by Atlanta in 1999, has only 133 receptions for 1,300 yards and five touchdowns. Only once, in 2000, when he had a career-best 31 catches for 340 yards, did Kelly register more than 30 receptions in a season.
But the former Mississippi State standout can be a punishing blocker at the point of attack, especially in sealing opposition linebackers off the edge, understands and accepts his role in the offense, and is an important locker room presence.
Kelly played four seasons (1999-2002) in Atlanta before joining the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent in 2003. The Falcons were among the teams that made an offer to Kelly this week.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.