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Marvin Lewis hasn't ruled out re-signing Jermaine Gresham

3/24/2015

Jermaine Gresham might be back in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform later this year.

With a notably weak remaining free-agent tight end market and an even worse draft outlook at the position, there is a fair chance Gresham -- the embattled Bengals unrestricted free agent who underwent surgery on a herniated disc last week -- will stick around for at least one more season.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis delivered that news near the end of his meeting with reporters Tuesday during the AFC coaches' breakfast at the owners meetings in Phoenix. Lewis said he has remained in contact with Gresham, and even spoke to him Monday.

"One thing he's consistent in is that he says, 'I'm loyal to you, Coach,'" Lewis said.

While he may be noted for his consistency in that arena, on the field has been a different matter. Fumbles, dropped passes and injuries marred what could have been a stellar first five years of his career.

Sure, Gresham has been to the Pro Bowl, but that's not what Bengals fans immediately associate with him.

Before anything else they highlight the two cut off routes he had last season that cost the Bengals at least one touchdown. They also bring up his 11 total fumbles, and untimely drops like the two that came in the wild-card round playoff loss at Houston after the 2012 season.

"He's had inconsistent play, but he's played at a high level," Lewis said. "He's a Pro Bowl player."

Gresham has 25 career touchdown catches and is just shy of 300 overall receptions. He also has averaged 9.7 yards per reception, and has proven to be a good target in red-zone territory.

Privately, some around the team have criticized him this offseason after he decided not to play in two of the more meaningful games the Bengals had late this past season. He tested a toe injury just before the Bengals played at Cleveland in a key division game in Week 15, and looked by most accounts fit enough to play. But he didn't. He also thought better of playing in the playoff game at Indianapolis after testing out his back injury just before it.

Asked to comment about the decision to not play following the 26-10 loss, Gresham declined to speak.

"He's a man of many, many, many, many, many, many moods," Lewis said.

Apparently that injury was worse than imagined. It's believed Raiders physicians were troubled by aspects of his back during a physical a couple of weeks ago, prompting last week's surgery. Before the physical, Gresham appeared to be a lock to sign with Oakland as the talks had picked up steam.

Lewis brushed off the notion that the surgery would complicate matters for the Bengals if they decided to re-sign Gresham.

"The surgery is not something that's huge," Lewis said. "It's like anything else. They've got to do the op [operation] records and you've got to evaluate the player."

Without elaborating to reporters present, Lewis said he wasn't surprised Gresham didn't get much interest on the open market. He also suggested that Michael Johnson's return to Cincinnati via free agency two weeks ago may have gotten Gresham to start reconsidering coming back to Cincinnati.

The Bengals definitely have a need for a tight end. Without Gresham, they have Tyler Eifert, Kevin Brock and 2014 practice-squad player Jake Murphy. Ryan Hewitt also would be a possibility for the position, but Lewis confirmed Tuesday that Hewitt will remain in the backfield as the H-back.