With free agency opening at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Bengals wrapped up the contract of their lone major unsigned special teamer when they re-upped wide receiver Brandon Tate Tuesday morning.
Tate, the club's all-time leader when it comes to yards per kick and second in punt returns, is zeroing in on several franchise records as their primary returner since he joined the club off waivers from the Patriots on the eve of the 2011 season. He enters the season with the third most punt return yards with 1,066, good for 9.9 per return, barely off Quan Cosby's franchise-best 10.0.
But Tate has 108 punt returns, third most behind only Mike Martin (140) and Lemar Parrish (130), players that last took one back 25 years ago. His 109 kick returns are good for a tie for fifth with Brandon Bennett. His 24.8 average has passed Parrish's 24.7 from 1970-77.
If his Cincinnati averages hold up and he fends off challenges for his jobs that may come from the draft, he'll finish as the all-time yards leader in both categories with Martin's 1,381 leading the way on punts and Tremain Mack's 3,583 the kick leader.
"He's a pro who does things the right way,' said special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "He's been a solid performer for us for three years."
With Tate averaging 26.1 yards per kick, the Bengals finished fifth in NFL kick returns last season and his Bengals-long of 71 yards gave them a late first half touchdown that blew open the Jets game for a 28-6 half-time lead. His 29-yard punt return in overtime set up Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal in the 27-24 win in Buffalo.