The Cincinnati Bengals are dipping their toes into the tight end class this draft season, but they could also bring back one of the best pass-catching tight ends they’ve had in a while.
Hayden Hurst is set to hit the free agent market after putting together a very solid season in Cincinnati. It appears that at least offensive coordinator Brian Callahan would love to have Hurst back in stripes after his surprising season.
“I thought Hayden really stepped up and provided us a ton of value,” Callahan told reporters Wednesday at the NFL Combine, according to Mike Petraglia at CLNS. “I didn’t expect him to be probably as good as he was for us, just because his tape was limited.
“We knew he had the capability of being a highly-productive player. But we weren’t sure what it would look like for us. He came in and did a fantastic job being able to create explosive plays. He was really tough and physical in the run game, which is what we weren’t sure we were going to get in that regard. I thought he really developed as a blocker.
“His toughness was on display. His energy was on display. Really enjoyed getting to know him and having him. I expressed to him before we left how much he meant to our team and the energy he provided. And hopefully, we find a way to get the guys that we like back.”
Hurst put up 414 yards and two touchdowns on 52 catches during the regular season. He did that in just 13 games. While that production in a vacuum doesn’t sound like much, the fact he did it in an offense where he was often the third or fourth option says something.
Beyond what you can see in the box score, his mentality is what the Bengals have been looking to instill among all their players. He played with a passion that often seemed to get everyone else riled up after he carried two guys an extra yard or two for a first down.
The things standing in the way of a reunion are the business aspects. If Hurst hits the open market and finds that his value is that of a tight end that will make roughly seven to 10 million a year on a multi-year contract, that could be just enough to price him out of Cincinnati’s plans the next few seasons.
It isn’t a secret that the Bengals have a ton of big contracts coming up with Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase on offense. While that won’t impact their 2023 cap space as much, players looking for long-term deals will have to be chosen wisely.
It also doesn’t help Hurst that this year’s draft is filled with tons of talented tight ends that could develop into helpful passing game additions within the next few seasons. The Bengals also haven’t been shy about their interest in those prospects so far either.
I don’t think you could find someone who was upset with Hurst being a Bengals in 2022. He was an underrated part of the team. However, Hurst has to do what he feels is best for his future this offseason. If that involves a return to Cincinnati then I think you will see plenty of happy teammates welcome him back.