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Tight ends the Bengals should target at the NFL Trade Deadline

Who the Bengals could target if they choose to upgrade the tight end position before the 2023 NFL Trade Deadline.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Zach Ertz makes a reception against Seattle
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Let’s start with the bad.

The Cincinnati Bengals signed tight end Irv Smith, Jr., to a one-year contract this offseason as a replacement for Hayden Hurst. A former second-round selection of the Minnesota Vikings, Smith came into Sunday’s game at the San Francisco 49ers with just six receptions for 32 yards and no touchdowns. His performance so far has been anything but what the Bengals had been hoping for.

Then there’s the ugly. Late in the second quarter, with Cincinnati leading by a 14-10 margin and driving for more at the 49er’s 3-yard-line, Smith took a swing pass from quarterback Joe Burrow and promptly fumbled to end the threat.

At least the good was somewhat promising. Against the 49ers, Smith had his best day yet as a Bengal with four receptions on four targets for 25 yards, with a long of 11 yards. He had more catches than Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon and was the only tight end with a reception.

In fact, in the Bengals’ win over the 49ers, their three lowest-graded offensive players via Pro Football Focus were Irv Smith (45.0), Drew Sample (39.1), and Mitchell Wilcox (37.3).

As if it wasn’t obvious enough that this position is severely lacking for a team that looked fully capable of a deep playoff run Sunday in one of the hardest places to win.

Should Cincinnati ride with Smith and the others for the rest of the year? Or is it time to make a change? The NFL Trade Deadline is Tuesday, so the Bengals will need to make a decision soon.

Cincinnati could decide to promote Tanner Hudson from the practice squad. Hudson filled in admirably when Smith was injured earlier in the season and finished with four receptions for 48 yards in the two games he played, including a long of 26 yards in a victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

Free agency, however, won’t provide any answers. That well has dried up. The two top remaining free-agent tight ends are Adam Shaheen and Maxx Williams, and neither of them has played since 2021.

So, if the Bengals are going to make a move to strengthen its tight end room, it will have to be through trade. And there are a couple who might fit the bill.

Tops on that list is probably former Philadelphia Eagle standout Zach Ertz. Ertz, who just went on the IR with a quad strain and would not be eligible for return until Week 12, still has plenty left in the tank. He has 27 receptions for 187 yards and a score for the Cardinals so far this season.

Also potentially on the trade market are a pair of New England Patriot tight ends in Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Henry has 23 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns, while Gesicki has caught 19 balls for 160 yards and one score.

Tight end Mo Alie-Cox has fallen out of favor with the Indianapolis Colts, despite having only six drops over 134 targets to date. So far this year, Alie-Cox has only been targeted eight times and has five receptions for 72 yards and a score. PFF recently suggested the Bengals could target Alie-Cox.

Finally, it might make sense for Cincinnati to consider a reunion with Hurst, who has just 14 receptions for the Carolina Panthers, and just one over the last two games.

Hurst has just five drops in his career on 190 targets, and his 2.6% drop rate is the third lowest among tight ends. He was particularly valuable for the Bengals last year in the playoffs, with at least four receptions and 35 yards in all three games.

The opportunities are there for the Bengals to make a move.

What name(s) would you like to see the Bengals pursue? Let us know in the comments section!