Only in Bengaldom during a Super Bowl run could a waiver-wire pickup who played 48 snaps in the postseason become a cult hero. It just goes to show the savvy football knowledge sandwiched between the Who Dey mania and the vast skills of Bengals tight end killer Tre Flowers.
"He's a fan favorite. I love him," says Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
The feeling is mutual and a big reason why over the weekend Flowers signed up for a full year with the Bengals after joining the thrill ride five games into a season that ended in Super Bowl LVI.
"I applaud Coach Lou for giving me this opportunity. I haven't seen too many guys do it, for sure," Flowers says. "If they put me in and I'm playing man, obviously I'm going to be on a lot of tight ends, but anybody they put me on I feel like I can cover."
The 6-foot-3 Flowers knows how tall he stands among the Black-and-Orange faithful, but he's not going to immerse himself in the accolades of social media.
"I appreciate it. It means a lot. I love to see it," Flowers says. "I try not to look at it myself. I try to stay a steady course and stay as consistent as I can."
The one-year signing hasn't upended the Bengals draft board or drained the salary cap. No. 31 is still open season and that includes cornerbacks and safeties, not to mention wide receiver.
Yes, anything but quarterback.
But it does give them breathing room in the secondary and a chance for Flowers to perfect his niche role that evolved in the weeks after they claimed him off waivers from Seattle.
As one Bengals insider put it, Flowers checks "a lot of boxes."
He gives them a third-down player who made some huge plays matched on tight ends in the postseason. With Ricardo Allen's retirement and Brandon Wilson's ACL rehab, Flowers also gives them a third safety. With Trae Waynes moving on, he gives them depth at outside cornerback behind Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple from a vet of 41 NFL starts.
It also gives them a self-made special teams player who came up with the biggest punt return tackle of the season in the last minutes of the AFC Divisional win in Tennessee.
"Whatever you need me to do," Flowers says. "I know if I'm playing as hard as I can, it benefits the team."
If this guy sounds like a voice-over from head coach Zac Taylor's relentless pursuit for the perfect locker room script, it's because he is. Senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner, who oversees the edge players, thinks highly enough of Flowers that he gave him a congratulatory call for the contract with the greeting, "Is this the tallest corner in the NFL?"
"Love him," Duffner says.
Talk about versatile. After he worked out Monday in Seattle he dropped off five-year-old Bailee at school.
"When we were on the Super Bowl run, I missed that," Flowers says. "She was in Seattle still in school and I was in Cincinnati. As soon as the Super Bowl was over, I was back to being a full-time dad."
Flowers and his fiancée are talking about what the next move is ("Whatever it is, family comes first"), but there's no question what Anarumo has planned for him. Not after two Titanic matchups with Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce last January.
Working primarily against Kelce on third down, Flowers helped hold him to zero catches in the second half of the win that clinched the AFC North and in the AFC title game four weeks later, Kelce had 40 of his 95 yards in the second half and overtime.
"He's got really good length where he doesn't get positioned out against those big, long tight ends that can run," says assistant linebackers coach Jordan Kovacs. "He matches up well with those guys. That was important. Think about the tight ends we played last year."
How about the ones they're playing this year?
If Rob Gronkowski returns to Tampa Bay, the Bengals play the NFL top three receiving tight ends via yards from last season (Baltimore's Mark Andrews, Kelce, Atlanta's Kyle Pitts) and six of the top eight (the Cowboys' Dalton Schultz, Gronkowski, and Miami's Mike Gesicki).
"Once again," Anarumo says of the steady avalanche of receiving tight ends. "He'll be here at the beginning of the season, which will help us."
Flowers is the quintessential Anarumo player, given he has built his hybrid 3-4 scheme on the versatility of players like Flowers. After playing him nine snaps in the AFC title game, he brought him back for 13 plays in a different role in the Super Bowl. With Rams tight end Tyler Higbee sidelined, Flowers was helping out in double coverage. Anarumo says his niche this season could widen.
"I know what he can do. Certainly he's carved out a heck of a role for all the tight ends we have to cover," Anarumo says. "Certainly he's a guy we thought we could keep adding to his plate. He's handled all of it well because he works so hard at it."
Flowers turns just 27 in a couple of months, but he's seen plenty in his four seasons. A college safety who has more than 40 NFL starts at cornerback, he's already played in 10 postseason games and, more importantly, has been able to process his curious departure from the Seahawks.
"Unfortunately, it didn't go in Seattle as me and my family planned," Flowers says. "But it's opportunity. I never hung my head, but I always felt I was close to something. Here in Cincinnati, I've got my head clear and know what my role is.
"I didn't know it at first, but I thank Seattle for changing me to cornerback because it changed my confidence level. I now believe I can cover anybody on the field. Putting cornerbacks on tight ends, that's something we can do. I'm trying to stay confident, being strong and being consistent. Those are my big things this year."
And the love doesn't hurt.
"I love to keep things in perspective," Flowers says. "But I do appreciate all the fans in Cincinnati showing me love. I couldn't ask for more."