With free agency just days away, the Cincinnati Bengals made their first move. The franchise opted to make a move familiar with Cincinnati fans. Per the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals re-signed wide receiver Brandon Tate. With the Bengals facing question marks in free agency, the move is more about dependability. The possible departure of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones may have prompted the signing decision.
Tate, a former New England Patriots draft pick, has spent the past five seasons in Cincinnati. He has never missed a game. After the Bengals claimed Tate on waivers the week before the 2011 season began, Tate became the franchise leader in punt returns with 153 and punt return yards with 1,411. According to stats from Pro Football Reference, his 9.2-yard average lands him in the top 20 on the Bengals’ all-time list.
Last season was a down year for Tate, who is used primarily on special teams. From 2011-14, Tate averaged at least 9.7 yards per punt return with a long of at least 32 yards. In 2015, that average dropped to just 6.3 with a long return of 18 yards. Of the qualified players in punt return average across the league, Tate was ranked at No. 22 in 2015.
“Brandon has made big plays to help us win games, and the consistency of his work ethic and his overall play is a big plus,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement. “We’re excited to have him back in the mix on both offense and special teams. He’s a player we’ve been able to count on every week.”
It’s expected that Tate will be competing with last year’s seventh-round pick, wide receiver Mario Alford, to return punts and kicks. He gives the Bengals a veteran presence that can help minimize mistakes in the return game.
The NFL moving up the spot of kickoffs to the 35-yard line has also hurt Tate, like most kick returners. Last year, Tate had 27 returns, which is a substantial drop from the 31.5 he averaged in the prior four years.
Tate hasn’t been an effective receiver in the NFL, as he’s never caught more than 24 passes in a single season, but his past five years as Cincinnati’s main special teams returner probably made him an asset to bring back with free agency looming on March 9. As has been the case every offseason since 2013, Tate was set to become an unrestricted free agent after a season in which his impact was very minimal.
While Tate’s stats aren’t bad, they aren’t exactly attention-grabbing numbers either. His stability and not turning the ball over has been enough for the Bengals to keep him around. Tate has also been good about where to field punts and kickoffs in addition to when to return them, take a knee, or call a fair catch. The level of trust the coaches have in him is really why he keeps getting his job back.
Tate had just two receptions last year. The most memorable came in Week 4, against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals were clinging to a 14-12 lead in the third quarter. Andy Dalton scrambled away from the Chiefs defense and found Tate streaking down the right sideline. He hit Tate with a deep rainbow. Tate fell, as he dived to make the catch, but wasn’t touched down by the defender. He sprung up and ran into the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown.
With Sanu and Jones being chased by various teams, Tate’s signing may produce more circus catches like that against the Chiefs. He made that highlight catch on his birthday. The Bengals gave him a slice of cake when they extended his stay.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty images]