These are far from the Cincinnati Bengals of old. After signing two high-end offensive linemen last offseason and then swinging for the fences and landing Orlando Brown Jr this year, the Bengals have seemingly fixed the offensive line issues.
They then filled the holes voided by Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell’s departure when they agreed to terms with Rams’ safety Nick Scott.
But when Hayden Hurst walked out the door on his way to Carolina, Cincinnati had to figure out the best course of action for the tight end position, and had yet to find an answer. After Foster Moreau was forced to step away from football due to a cancer diagnosis, they must pivot.
So how will they fill that need? Their options are quite thin.
Two Rookies + Drew Sample
Perhaps the most likely option, Cincinnati could double dip on the position in the 2023 draft while also bringing back a familiar face. With the 28th pick, the Bengals’ options will be limited. But if they can take the top tight end available, or potentially trade back a few spots into the early second, they could also line themselves up to land a more developmental prospect in the middle rounds.
Fans and analysts have pegged Michael Mayer to the Bengals given their close proximity to his hometown. Now say for example, Mayer does last until the 28th pick. Odds are Cincinnati would be hard pressed to pass up on a prospect of his caliber. They could then look to add more athletic upside at the position by drafting Old Dominion’s Zack Kuntz or Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker in the fourth or fifth round.
With this option, the Bengals struck out on signing Moreau and the remaining free agents didn’t move the needle for the front office and coaching staff. Their best course of action would be to bring back Sample on a one-year prove it deal as a rotational in-line tight end to allow the rookies to develop.
Irv Smith Jr. + a Rookie
While a rookie is likely in each scenario, the Bengals could look to add another young option in Irv Smith Jr.. Smith will only be 25-years-old in 2023, but has played in just 37 of a possible 66 games in his career. He missed the entire 2021 season due to a knee injury suffered in the preseason finale, and was placed on injured reserve in November of 2022.
The Bengals have a history of reviving tight end careers and Smith could be the next in line. Hurst signed a one-year, $3 million deal in 2022 and recently accepted a three-year, $21 million contract from the Panthers. This comes after C.J. Uzomah left for a similar three-year deal in New York.
Smith has shown more flashes and was thought to be a breakout player prior to his injury in 2021. If he is fully healthy, the Bengals could take on yet another project and help Smith’s long-term value in the process.
Trade: Tight End and a pick for Jonah Williams
Desperate times call for desperate measures. With Jonah Williams reportedly on the trade block, the Bengals could be on the lookout for a tackle-needy team with a tight end to spare. Maybe Tyler Conklin or Jeremy Ruckert from the Jets, or Mo Allie-Cox in Indy?
But what about Tyler Higbee in Los Angeles? Not the youngest player at 30 years old, but with his history with Zac Taylor, the move makes sense. Higbee is heading into the final year of his contract, with two void years added on and will have a cap hit of $9.3 million in 2023. The Bengals could possibly redo Higbee’s deal or sign him to a slight extension in order to lessen the blow of the cap hit and get out of the void years.
This is probably the least-likely scenario of the three, but perhaps the Bengals surprise us once again with an unheard of move.