One of the many new faces in the Panthers’ pass-catching corps is Hayden Hurst. The veteran tight end is in line for a starting role in Carolina, but he will be missing time in his first offseason with his new team.
Hurst recently underwent sports hernia surgery, head coach Frank Reich said (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Joe Person). Reich added that there is no timetable for Hurst’s recovery. The latter has the chance to operate as a key member of the Panthers’ skill position group this year, after stints with the Ravens, Falcons and Bengals to begin his career.
Finding an environment in which he can be a team’s undisputed starter has proven to be challenging for the former first-rounder. Hurst played in a rotational role in Baltimore for two years, and the presence of Mark Andrewsmade him a logical trade candidate. He had a career-year in Atlanta in 2020 with a 56-571-6 statline. The Falcons’ decision to draft Kyle Pittsin 2021, however, left Hurst in need of another new opportunity, something which led to his one-and-done year with the Bengals.
The South Carolina product put up the second-highest reception (52) and yardage (414) totals of his career in Cincinnati in 2022, though the team ultimately decided to go in a different direction, eventually signing Irv Smith Jr. as a free agent. By that time, Hurst had already inked a three-year, $21.75MM deal with Carolina. The latter joined wideouts Adam Thielenand DJ Charkas veteran pass-catchers brought in to give an offense which will be led by rookie quarterback Bryce Youngplenty of experience on that side of the ball.
Hurst, 29, faces notable expectations in 2023 given the lucrative nature of his contract and the first-team role he should occupy with the Panthers. His absence will be felt while he recovers from the procedure, while Carolina will turn to the likes of Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble and Stephen Sullivanat the TE spot during OTAs.
When the Bengals signed Brown, Williams learned about it like the rest of the football world did. The three-year Cincinnati left tackle starter was “blindsided” by the move, Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. The Bengals have talked about wanting Williams at right tackle, but Conway adds they did not communicate those plans to the former first-round pick ahead of time.
It is not exactly uncommon for teams to move forward with big-picture plans without informing players those strategies will affect, though franchises have made a habit of alerting quarterbacks to future additions at the position in recent years. The Bengals, however, did not expect to land Brown. The Pro Bowl tackle’s reps contacted the team, according to Bengals director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic (via The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr.).
Nearly three days after the legal tampering period gave agents permission to negotiate with teams, Brown remained unsigned. The Bengals entered free agency wanting to re-sign Vonn Bell, Germaine Pratt, Hayden Hurst and Samaje Perine, Dehner adds, noting the team viewed Jessie Bates as out of its price range. Bates signed a four-year, $64MM Falcons deal on the tampering period’s first day. Bell’s age prompted the Bengals to set a firm ceiling on his negotiations, leading the eighth-year safety to the Panthers, who later signed Hurst to what turned out to be this year’s top tight end deal. Perine defected to the Broncos for terms nearly identical to what the Bengals offered.
Brown’s camp showed interest in the Bengals on March 14; the sides agreed to terms March 15. Seeking a job on another contender, Brown said Joe Burrow‘s presence attracted him to Cincinnati; the Bengals will give him $42.4MM in the deal’s first two years. The upfront cash sealed the deal, per Dehner. The Bengals were looking at free agent tackles, Dehner adds, but initially eyeing lower-priced options. One of those coming to Cincinnati may not have led to Williams being moved off his starting spot without competition, but Brown’s pedigree will. As a result, Williams wants out.
Zac Taylor said this week he expects Williams to be back and partake in a competition at right tackle, a position the former has not played since his freshman season at Alabama. Going into a contract year, Williams wants to stay at his position.
“We want guys that are willing to do to help us win games,” Taylor said, via Conway. “And I understand there’s comfort levels playing certain sides. Trust me, I played quarterback so I’m not going to sit there and pretend that I’ve got experience moving from right guard to left guard. I know that there’s some reps that need to take place to feel completely comfortable with that, but most of these guys have done it at some point in their career. So they’ve at least got experience doing it and that’s just the way it will go for us.”
Williams’ 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame was a factor in the team prioritizing the 6-8, 340-pound Brown, Conway adds, and Dehner notes Collins’ injury issues — which also included a back problem that prevented the ex-Cowboys standout from practicing on Wednesdays last season — and struggles in pass protection led to the Bengals pursuing tackles. Bengals O-line coach Frank Pollack has said the plan is for Collins to compete for the job, and Taylor alluded to former second-round pick Jackson Carman — a converted guard the team moved to tackle to replace Williams during the playoffs — being part of it as well.
Although an early report surfaced indicating Williams was generating interest from several teams, Outkick.com’s Armando Salguero notes no team has proven willing to send the Bengals a high draft choice for their hopeful right tackle. Williams is due $12.6MM on his fifth-year option this season. Teams like the Colts, Jets and Buccaneers would make sense as Williams destinations, but as of now, he is ticketed for what would be an unusual position battle with Collins, whom the Bengals gave a three-year, $21MM deal in 2022, and potentially Carman.
Both Williams and Collins are coming off season-ending knee injuries; Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap and Collins ACL and MCL tears. These maladies played a major role in the Chiefs prevailing in the teams’ AFC championship game rematch despite a gimpy Patrick Mahomes. Brown switching sides in this rivalry may lead to another falling domino, but as of now, no Williams trade is imminent.
Post-D.J. Moore, the Panthers are in need of multiple pass catchers. They are planning to visit with Adam Thielen later on Wednesday, but they are also addressing their tight end spot. Hayden Hurst is expected to sign with Carolina, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.
A former first-round pick, Hurst spent last season with the Bengals. He joined Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki as the top available tight ends on this year’s market. Hurst is signing a three-year deal with the Panthers, Insidethebirds.com’s Adam Caplan tweets. The contract will check in at $21.75MM with $13MM guaranteed at signing, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Not bad for the South Carolina product, who signed for just $2MM guaranteed last year.
The ex-minor league baseball player will join his second NFC South team and fourth overall. Toggling between the AFC North and NFC South, Hurst spent two seasons in Baltimore and two in Atlanta prior to his Cincinnati one-off. Going into his age-30 season, Hurst will join a Panthers team that has not gotten much from its tight end spot since Greg Olsen‘s foot injuries began to pile up.
Stepping in for free agency defection C.J. Uzomah, Hurst caught 52 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns last season. He added 13 more grabs and another score in the playoffs, but the Bengals will continue to make changes at tight end after allowing another starter to leave in free agency.
Ian Thomas led Panthers tight ends in receiving yards in each of the past three seasons, but the offense did not feature much of a threat at this position. None of Thomas’ past three yardage totals eclipsed 200. Olsen, who racked up 597 yards in 2019, is the most recent Panther tight end to clear 200 in a season. The team signed Dan Arnold in 2021 but included him in a trade for C.J. Hendersonin 2021. Hurst’s career-high mark came in 2020 — 571 — before the Falcons drafted Kyle Pitts fourth overall.
Hurst’s baseball past makes him a bit older than his NFL draft class; he is heading into his age-30 season. But the Panthers will make the former Pitts mentor and Ravens first-rounder a key part of their first Frank Reich-directed passing game. They still have work to do at receiver, and it is not known which quarterback will be Charlotte-bound via the No. 1 overall pick. But said rookie (and Andy Dalton, most likely) will be targeting Hurst in 2023.
SEPTEMBER 2: To no surprise, the Bengals are indeed re-signing Allen, Thomas and Williams now that they have the open roster spots to do so, per a team announcement. Cincinnati is also placing safety Tycen Andersonand tackle Isaiah Princeon IR.
AUGUST 31: The Bengals have made some notable additions in the aftermath of yesterday’s roster cutdowns. Per the waiver wire, they have claimed tight end Devin Asiasi, guard Max Scharpingand defensive tackle Jay Tufele.
Asiasi came to New England with significant expectations, given his draft status and the organization’s success at the position. The third-rounder made just 10 appearances in his first two seasons, though, recording only a pair of receptions. The Patriots made a substantial free agent investment in Hunter Henryand Jonnu Smith last offseason, limiting his future with the team. In Cincinnati, he will face steep competition for playing time from Hayden Hurst and, in all likelihood, O.J. Howard.
Scharping is in a similar situation to Asiasi in terms of being an underwhelming high draft choice yet to finish their rookie contract. A 2019 second-rounder, the 26-year-old started 33 of the 48 contests he appeared in with the Texans, moving from the left to right guard spot this past season. Regardless of where he lined up, the Northern Illinois alum graded out in the mid-to-high 50s with respect to PFF rating, leaving him on the roster bubble. Scharping’s vacated spot is likely to be filled by A.J. Cann; he will challenge for a backup role behind top free agent addition Alex Cappawith the Bengals.
Tufele, meanwhile, has seen the least playing time of the new trio. As a rookie last season, he made just four appearances in Jacksonville, totaling two tackles. His PFF pass rush grade of 77 indicates some upside on third downs, which dates back to his time in college. Moving on from the USC alum so soon may have come as a surprise, though the additions of Folorunso Fatukasiand Adam Gotsisalong the d-line were likely to significantly lessen his chance of seeing significant playing time with the Jaguars. The Bengals lost Larry Ogunjobiin free agency, but re-upped B.J. Hill, whom Tufele will look to provide depth behind his new home.
The defending AFC champions will return many of the members of last season’s team, but these additions could prove effective at areas of relative need. Among the cuts necessary to accommodate the new arrivals is veteran quarterback Brandon Allen. The 29-year-old signed a one-year deal for the third consecutive offseason to remain in Cincinnati.
For now, Allen’s departure leaves the Bengals with only Joe Burrowunder center. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo tweets, however, that Allen “will be back.” Cincinnati is also parting ways with safety Michael Thomasand running back Trayveon Williams.
Hurst, 28, started his career in Baltimore. He flashed potential in two campaigns with the Ravens, totalling 43 catches and 512 yards in 28 games. With Mark Andrewsahead of him on the depth chart, however, it became clear that Hurst would need to go elsewhere to have an opportunity as a starter. He requested – and was granted – a trade to Atlanta in 2020.
In his first season with the Falcons, the former first rounder played closer to the level he was capable of with increased playing time. He totalled 56 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns. However, the Falcons drafted Kyle Pittslast offseason, which again limited Hurst’s target share. It’s not surprising, then, that he is on the move again.
In Cincinnati, Hurst will step into a sizeable opening left by Uzomah’s departure. His production in the passing game – along with his blocking ability – should keep him on the field for a Bengals offense which was among the league’s best in 2021. This addition should help compliment the team’s talented WR trio enough for the Bengals to replicate their success in the passing game.
The Falcons have designated tight end Hayden Hurst for return from injured reserve. To make room for Hurst, the Falcons have waived veteran punter Dustin Colquitt.
Atlanta traded for Hurst last year, but the team’s new regime replaced him as the primary tight end by selecting Kyle Pitts No. 4 overall in April. Hurst caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. While Pitts is now the leader of this group and has emerged as one of the NFL’s most promising rookies, Hurst still had 20 receptions through nine games, up until his ankle injury.
The Falcons will now have 21 days to either activate Hurst or lose their opportunity to use him for the rest of the year. Odds are, he’ll be ready to go soon. Hurst, 28, is due to be a free agent in March since the Falcons declined his fifth-year option.
Colquitt, a 17-year-veteran, appeared in six games as Cameron Nizialek‘s fill-in. He was doing well, up until he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list a couple of weeks ago. Since then, the Falcons have picked up longtime Saints punter Thomas Morstead. Morstead is now set to continue in the role for the rest of the season.
The Falcons will make an adjustment to their two-tight end sets in the weeks to come. They placed Hayden Hurst on IR due to the ankle injury he is battling.
Hurst did not practice this week. The fourth-year tight end played 23 snaps in Atlanta’s loss to Dallas and has played alongside Kyle Pitts in every Falcons game this season.
Blocking tight end Lee Smith, however, is good to go for Thursday’s game, according to the team. Smith missed the Cowboys game due to a back issue. Atlanta also elevated tight end Parker Hesse from its practice squad ahead of its game against New England.
Atlanta traded for Hurst last year, but the team’s new regime replaced him as the primary tight end by selecting Pitts fourth overall in April. Hurst caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. While Pitts is now the leader of this group and has emerged as one of the NFL’s most promising rookies, Hurst still has 20 receptions through nine games.
Although the Falcons traded second- and fifth-round picks for Hurst last year, they declined the ex-minor league baseball player’s fifth-year option. Hurst, 28, is due to be a free agent in March. The former first-round pick would have a few games at the end of this season to make a final impression for tight end-seeking teams.