The Bengals and their new coaching staff appeared to get off on the right foot Monday when various reports indicated they've agreed to bring back two offensive starters their coaches targeted in free agency.
It's believed that right tackle Bobby Hart and tight end C.J. Uzomah are expected to sign their deals as soon as Tuesday, the day before the first day of the new league year when free agents are allowed to sign with other teams.
In the wake of the Uzomah report, another one followed that Tyler Kroft, another tight end drafted in Uzomah's class of 2015, had agreed to sign in Buffalo. All have been reported for three years and are thought to be in the $19-21 million range. The Bengals are apparently still talking to Tyler Eifert, the tight end that began the season in the starting lineup before missing the last 12 games with a dislocated ankle.
Hart, 24, started all 16 games last season and Jim Turner, the Bengals' new offensive line coach, watched them all closely on film and left no doubt that he wanted him for more than 16 games. Turner has an excellent relationship with Hart's coach at Florida State and had no trouble picking Jimbo Fisher's brain. Turner made his thoughts well known on Hart at the NFL scouting combine earlier this month even though he dared not utter his name even before free agency started.
"I can't comment on the right tackle because he's unrestricted so I'm not sure what's going to happen with him," Turner said. "I thought he did a great job. I thought was phenomenal. I know he gave up some sacks and pressures and all this other business, but if you really watch him play, he played with passion and I thought he played well. He played for Jimbo, so I talked with Jimbo about him coming from Florida State. I just like what he brought to the table as far as energy is concerned. I think he's an athlete and I think he's a good player, a good, solid player."
New head coach Zac Taylor's staff apparently felt the same way about Uzomah, taken in the fifth round of a draft the Bengals took Kroft in the third round. Both fell victim to injuries last season. Kroft missed the last 11 games with a foot injury and couldn't duplicate his career year in 2017 with 42 catches for 404 yards and seven touchdowns. It was Uzomah's turn last season for a career year as the last tight end standing with 43 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns while playing with a seriously injured shoulder for the last half of the schedule.
The athletically gifted Uzomah must have impressed them with his blocking and since he was basically one of the only healthy tight ends they had over the last half of the season, they saw plenty of that.
"They have to be able to do some things in the run game well enough, some things in the pass game well enough, but do they have to be great at either one? Not necessarily," said new offensive coordinator Brian Callahan at the combine of what he expects from his tight ends. "I don't think you have to have a dominant tight end to be a good offense. Always nice to have one, but you don't have to have a player that excels at just one thing. As long as you have a guy that can do a bunch of things well enough, you can have a productive tight end unit."
With Uzomah reportedly in the fold, he joins Mason Schreck, Jordan Franks and Cethan Carter as tight ends under contract.