It’s true that Head Coach Marvin Lewis and Owner Mike Brown have been highly focused on bringing back the core of last year’s roster, but it’s been equally noteworthy that some names were expected to not receive invites back into the locker room. Linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Pat Sims were among those thought not to return to the orange fold. Now almost ten months from the original debate, the Bengals came to terms with kick-returner Brandon Tate earlier last week, signing a 1-year contract and becoming the first returning Bengal to become stamped by the question mark of the Queen City fan base.
However, while greater Bengaldom raises the proverbial eyebrow at last week’s news, a few things should be realized. First, the terms of this deal aren’t public, which would indicate that the amount of guaranteed money in this contract is probably next to nothing, further suggesting that Tate isn’t part of the primary players the Bengals are looking to retain; he’s insurance. Second and closely related, Coach Lewis routinely becomes even more guarded and pragmatic against the media during February, March and April than he does during the regular season. It wouldn’t be surprising if another aspect of inking a largely meaningless, though public contract with Tate is a psychological wrinkle that is strategically put out for other teams around the NFL as they formulate their own Draft strategies.
Conspiracy laden as it may be, the numbers don’t lie. Tate’s average return was 24.8 yards last season which was tied for fifth in Bengals franchise history, however; when broken down, that’s the average of 32 returns totaling 795 yards, which is a net reduction from 2011 when he returned 42 for 998 yards and an average of 23.8 yards per return. While the delta between 2011 and 2012 is only a yard, let’s remember that in 2011 Tate was 17th among kick returners while this year he’s being heralded within a franchise’s history books by the Bengals lead writer, Geoff Hobson, a.k.a. Baghdad Hob. What a difference a year makes…Or does it? In 2012, of kick returners who fielded more than 15 kick-offs, there were not only 17 players who had a higher return average than Tate, but 14 of those also exploded for at least one longer return than Tate’s during the course of the season, and more than half found the end zone as well. In the past two seasons with the Bengals, Tate has not only been unable to return a kick-off for a touchdown, but he also hasn’t ripped one off for more than 45 yards either. More concerning than any of the previous stats, Tate’s instincts are terrible when returning within the red zone. Thankfully, the Bengals have taken notice of this as well, significantly reducing his punt returns from 51 attempts in 2011 to 21 attempts in 2012. Regardless, while Tate’s total returns, punts and kick-offs, were reduced by 40 to 53 returns in 2012, he still managed to cough up 4 fumbles – one more than in 2011.