The Cincinnati Bengals didn't pay C.J. Uzomah what the New York Jets offered him so the reigning AFC champions needed to find a tight end in the offseason. The one they signed -- Hayden Hurst -- didn't exactly wow fans at the time.
After watching Hurst in this offense, however, fans now can't imagine the Bengals offense without him. Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus even went so far as to say that Hurst is the one free agent this offseason that the Bengals can't let get away.
While I'd say that honor belongs to Germaine Pratt, Hurst has most definitely been an impact addition to this team.
Hayden Hurst looks like a whole new player with the Bengals
Before arriving in the Queen City, Hurst had one good year and that came in 2020 with the Falcons. His numbers from that season (56 catches, 571 yards, 6 touchdowns) are still career-highs for him but it's worth noting that the tight end missed four games in 2022. Had he been healthy during that stretch, my guess is that he at least surpasses the catches total and potentially the yards as well.
Even if this year didn't see Hurst putting up career-highs, what he's added to this offense is hard to replace. He's a key target for Joe Burrow on third downs and he's also a terrific blocker, which he put on full display in the win over Buffalo.
The fact of the matter is that the Bengals signed Hurst to a one-year "prove it" deal because they needed a replacement for Uzomah and didn't want to marry themselves to Hurst long-term if he didn't pan out. He proved himself though and did so while making the Bengals better.
Hurst's performance this season should make him a popular name in free agency but I honestly think there's a solid chance that he's back in Cincinnati next season.
A lot of the time I roll my eyes whenever fans say "So and so will take a hometown discount because they want to win or because they love the organization" but I could see Hurst actually doing so. He's projected to earn another one-year deal in the offseason worth $3.9 million, per Spotrac, and that's affordable for Cincinnati. He's also said that he enjoys playing in Cincy because he gets to be himself.
The Cincinnati Bengals needed a star tight end and Hayden Hurst has been that for them.