The Cincinnati Bengals and their fans seemed to be a bit caught off guard when one of their longest tenured players — tight end C.J. Uzomah — opted to take a deal with the New York Jets early in free agency.
Uzomah had really inserted himself as a leader in 2021, but the show must go on.
The Bengals ended up replacing Uzomah’s role in the passing game by signing former Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst to a one-year contract.
Some have brushed this off as a a move Cincinnati had to settle for after some of the bigger name tight ends signed elsewhere. However, head coach Zac Taylor thinks this is a move that could easily pay dividends.
“We are really excited to have him,” Taylor said this week. “We think that that’s a great fit for us and a great fit for him. Just having watched his career over the last four years in Baltimore and Atlanta, he is a guy that — the more research we did on him and really dug into it — we feel like that guy can be a real weapon and asset for us this year.
“We went to dinner with him and James Casey and Drew Sample, and I feel like he really hit it off with the group in that tight end room. We’ve got high expectations for Hayden to come in here. I think he’s made of the right stuff, and he’s really gonna be able to help us at the tight end position.”
Hurst is coming off a season where he had just 26 receptions for 221 yards and three touchdowns. However, he was demoted to second on the depth chart after the Falcons opted to take Kyle Pitts. The year before, Hurst had a career year with 56 receptions 571 yard and six touchdowns. All of which were career highs.
While Uzomah was much more efficient with his targets last season, those numbers are all higher than any year Uzomah has put together. Not to say that makes him a better option, but it is to note that he is more than capable of playing the Uzomah role.
Hurst has rarely been the receiving tight end option. Outside of that one season before Pitts showed up in Atlanta, we just haven’t seen him in that capacity. We know he has enough athletic ability to be a problem in single coverage, though.
This situation could be ideal for both sides. Hurst gets an opportunity to show off in an offense where he is surrounded by weapons who demand plenty of attention. The Bengals also get a one-year contract where they can draft a young athletic tight end that they can develop for a season behind Drew Sample and Hurst.
It will be interesting where Hurst will fit in with this offense filled with talent. It is safe to say that at the very least he should be more than serviceable. The way Taylor is talking about him may indicate he could be even more than that.