The Cincinnati Bengals signed a tight end who averages 30 catches for 286 yards and three touchdowns per season in the second wave of free agency to a one-year deal. “I feel like I’m almost the missing piece to get us that Super Bowl”, Irv Smith Jr. said after signing, via the team’s website.
A 2019 second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings, Smith has caught 91 passes in his three seasons of play for 858 yards and nine touchdowns. He spent the 2021 season on the Reserve/Injured List and caught just 25 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in eight games played last year.
He is now the top tight end on the Bengals’ roster with their own free agent, Drew Sample, remaining unsigned. If Smith can stay healthy there is reason to believe that he can rejuvenate his career in this Bengals offense.
A torn meniscus kept him out of the entirety of the 2021 season, and a significant ankle injury ended his campaign last year eight games in. In his last full season in 2020, Smith caught 30 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns on just 43 targets, dividing reps with Kyle Rudolph and in an offense with two 100-target wide receivers.
Hayden Hurst was the Bengals’ top tight end last season, having since signed with the Carolina Panthers. He caught 52 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns in 2022. C.J. Uzomah previously had a larger role, putting up 49 catches for 493 yards and five scores in 2021 before leaving in free agency.
Can Smith carve out a larger role for himself in a Bengals offense that includes a dynamic wide receiver trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd? Joe Burrow averaged nearly 38 pass attempts per game last year, so they certainly put the ball in the air. But ultimately, Smith is chasing a championship.
“I felt like Cincinnati had the best chance to win a Super Bowl”, he said. “I’ve watched a lot of Bengals games over the years. I wanted to be a part of this opportunity to chase a ring and be a part of something special”.
Considering the fact that the Bengals have been in the AFC Championship Game in the past two seasons — and came within a minute of winning the Super Bowl in 2021 — it was unquestionably reasonable for Smith to want to come to Cincinnati to try to win.
Whether or not he’s in some way the missing piece of the puzzle is another matter. He does have largely untapped potential, and the Bengals could do a better job of getting the most out of him than perhaps the Vikings did.
But at the end of the day, he’ll still be competing for targets with arguably the top wide receiver trio in the league, which won’t be easy. Even Boyd’s numbers have dropped, going from an 80-catch player to more like 65 over the past two years as other targets have demanded attention.