The Cincinnati Bengals likely didn’t figure the significance of the date into the equation, but the timing of their signing Ryan Hewitt to a three-year contract extension could not have been more appropriate.
It came one day after the first full-pad, full-contact practice of training camp, which is significant because it was that same practice in 2014 when the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Hewitt, then an undrafted rookie free agent, really started opening eyes.
“When we put the pads on the first time (as rookies), we saw a guy that was not scared to go in there and bang with our linebackers here who have a ton of experience,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “I think that turned heads. He brought that every day.”
It’s the second time in three years the Bengals have rewarded an undrafted free agent with a contract extension. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict signed a four-year, $19 million deal in 2014 after playing in all 32 games his first two seasons.
Hewitt, who has played in 31 of 32 games in his first two seasons, signed a deal worth a $7.5 million, with $1.5 guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.
“I was definitely hoping it would happen,” Hewitt said. “My agent has been in talks with them for a while going back and forth. It’s a blessing. I’m thankful for every opportunity I’ve gotten so far and hopefully I can make them feel good about what they did.”
Drafted players are under team control for the first four years of their careers (with a team option for a fifth year for first-rounders), but undrafted rookies such as Burfict and Hewitt come into the league on three-year deals.
“It’s a situation where you’re bummed you don’t get drafted, but then just have to make the most out of it and the last few years I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt would have been a restricted free agent in 2017, meaning the Bengals would still have control over him with a right-of-first-refusal luxury where they could match any offer from another team. Or by placing a first- or second-round tender on him, meaning any team that signed him would have to give the Bengals that corresponding draft pick.
But Hewitt wanted to stay in Cincinnati, and the Bengals made him an offer he was glad to sign.
“For me it’s a lot more money than I would have made anyway,” he said. “That helps for sure, but if they want to give you that opportunity, I’m going to play here regardless so if they’re going to do that I’m absolutely going to take more money.”
Hewitt has 18 catches for 185 yards in his first two seasons, but his biggest value has come as a blocker, particularly when he lines up in the backfield as a fullback.
“He’s not a real finesse guy,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “Playing at Stanford and the offense he played in and how he’s put together really plays well for us. He’s really good for our football team in every way.”