Irv Smith Jr.
What is the best one-year job on earth? Being Joe Burrow's number one tight end with the Bengals on a prove-it contract. CJ Uzomah, and Hayden Hurst both have a ton of new zeroes on their bank account due to career years being Burrow's target.
Irv Smith Jr has an integral role in 2023. The fact that the Bengals were not in a position to draft a tight end in one of the deepest TE draft classes in history puts him in a can't afford to miss category. The Bengals only have blocking tight ends such as Drew Sample and Devin Assiasi as backup. With Smith Jr's injury history that is definitely in tight rope without a net territory.
Landing on the IR last year after the first seven games, Smith Jr. was supposed to be a breakout candidate in 2022. Finishing with only 25 receptions for 182 yards and two touchdowns it is imperative that he take advantage of his one-year prove-it deal with Burrow to be the next-in-line Bengals tight end to break out and take the big money from another team.
This one is only if the Bengals don't extend Tee Higgins prior to the season, which is entirely possible. If he is not extended then Higgins could have himself one whale of a contract year. Already coveted by any team in need of a number one Higgins can only add to his value.
Seventh-four receptions, 1,029 yards, and seven touchdowns as a number two receiver. Higgins had tons of big plays on film and delivered as a number one when Ja'Marr Chase went down and all the attention was on him. He has already proved it and a monster 2023 campaign would only add to his value.
If the Bengals think his value is high now, he would pull in WR1 money easily with a big year. Adding in the fact that a newly revamped offensive line could give Joe Burrow more time and more opportunities to high-point balls deep downfield could lead him to a career year.
So there you have it. Will 38 free agents in contract years propel the Bengals to the Super Bowl? These five may be hitting big-time free-agent money next year. Hopefully, that extra effort carries the Bengals to the promised land as well.