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Thursday, January 23, 2014
Bengals position outlook: Tight ends

By Coley Harvey

With the offseason here, let's spend the next two weeks taking a position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season and give a sneak peek at what may lie ahead in 2014.

After quarterbacks Mondayrunning backs Tuesday and receivers Wednesday, up next:

TIGHT ENDS

2014 free agents: Alex Smith.

Gresham
Eifert
The good: With Tyler Eifert's addition to the position, the Bengals were able to use their tight ends in ways they had only previously dreamed of. Often this season they were able to get into two-tight end sets, featuring both Eifert and fourth-year player Jermaine Gresham on the field at the same time. Gresham had already established himself as a pass-catching threat, but Eifert ended up doing the same, catching at least one pass in every game he played. Together, they had more than 900 receiving yards and totaled six receiving touchdowns. Both were viewed as solid run-blockers throughout the season, with Eifert often lining up in the backfield serving as an H-back, clearing room for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. When Eifert and Gresham both had injuries late in the year, Smith and former tight end Orson Charles adequately filled their shoes as backups. Reserve right tackle Dennis Roland also came off the bench to serve as an extra blocker when the first-string tight ends missed the regular-season finale against Baltimore.

The bad: Drops have been an issue for Gresham throughout his career, and at ill-afforded times in 2013, they made their presence felt. Overall, though, he was better than he had been in that area. After dropping six passes last regular season, he only dropped three in 2013. The rookie Eifert had a pair of drops, too. Penalties also have been problematic for Gresham, who tied a career high with nine for the second straight season. Holding calls and false starts were the bulk of Gresham's infractions, although he also had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for making contact with an official at Detroit.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Gresham ($4.3 million), Eifert ($1.9 million). Gresham's propensity for drawing penalties and dropping footballs at some of the most inopportune times have drawn the ire of many. There have been calls for his ouster externally, while internally, the Oklahoma product has heaped pressure upon himself to perform better. Don't expect Gresham to be let go this offseason. Next offseason, however, could be a different story. Although his contract, which expires after the 2014 season, could be restructured this spring and summer, look for Gresham to play out the final year of his contract. If he performs well and keeps the drops and penalties down, he might be re-signed next year. If he struggles in this contract year, though, the Bengals could stick with Eifert as their tight end of the future. What Cincinnati does in this year's draft could have an impact on Gresham's future with the club.

Draft priority: Medium. If the Bengals want to raise the stakes on Gresham even further, they'll pursue a tight end in this year's draft. With Smith potentially gone in free agency, they still may need one anyway, even if Charles and Roland -- whose contract also is up this offseason -- are on the roster as worst-case scenario backups.