14 games in three seasons: Bengals' Tyler Eifert hopes to move past injuries

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert knows his opportunities are dwindling after years of injuries.

A shoulder dislocation caused him to miss the entire 2014 season. An unexpected ankle injury in the 2016 Pro Bowl derailed his ensuing season. Between the ankle injury and back injuries, he was limited to appearances in just 10 games in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Just when everything was looking up, his ankle snapped last September, forcing him on IR yet again. It’s clear teams have grown wary of his injury history by this point. That's why the Bengals prioritized teammate C.J. Uzomah ahead of him in free agency.

There’s a sense that time is running out for Eifert, who has shown he can be among the best at his position when healthy. Six years into his career, the only real thing he has to show for it is the 2015 season when he caught 13 touchdowns, made his only Pro Bowl and helped the Bengals get to the playoffs.

If he can’t make it through this season, he might not get another chance, so Eifert just hopes he has some good luck. Maybe this is the year the injuries have run their course.

“I would hope so. I mean, holy crap. But I don't know,” Eifert said. “You would think they were (done), but I'll just go out there and do what I always do and play as hard as I can and that's all you can control.”

Eifert, 28, recently re-signed with the Bengals. There appeared to be few suitors this time, likely scared off by his injury history. His contract with the Bengals is a modest one-year, $4 million deal with only his signing bonus guaranteed. To see all of that money, he would have to play a full 16-game season, which he has never done.

But Eifert seemed happy to just be around on Tuesday afternoon, the first day of the offseason training program. Recently engaged and fresh off a trip to teammate Giovani Bernard's wedding in Italy, a happy Eifert stood in front of the locker he’s occupied for years, using the words "grateful" and "excited" often.

“It's awesome to be back here. It's good to see all the guys,” he said. “I'm just thankful that I have another opportunity to play here and try to make the most of it and do what I can to help this team win and put points on the board. Mostly just grateful for another opportunity.”

Eifert even seemed to be looking forward to training camp, where the dog days of summer have a tendency to wear most players down. After so many days spent in training rooms or rehabbing on adjacent fields, he relishes training camp, too.

“It's tough. With the injury I had, I wasn't able to be around the guys as much. You're not very mobile,” he said. “You definitely see it from a different perspective. And I think as many times as I've been in those shoes, you have an appreciation for the game and the opportunity to go out there. It doesn't become monotonous, where it's just another day at camp and I can really use a day off and those types of things. Every day you're happy to be going to work.”