The Bengals‘ latest plug-and-play tight-end experiment is creating a mess for that position in 2023. Drew Sample is doing a great job in his blocking role, but Irv Smith Jr. hasn’t held up his end of the bargain.
Smith (39.2 overall Pro Football Focus grade) has just six catches for 32 yards this season. He’s PFF’s lowest-graded player on the roster (min. 50 snaps) and lowest-graded NFL tight end (min. 10 targets).
Is New York’s Darren Waller the answer? USA Today’s Cody Woodroof says the Bengals should trade for the former Pro Bowler. “Waller is stuck on a Giants team going nowhere in a hurry, and he’s just too talented to get stuck in New York,” Woodroof wrote.
“If the Giants would be willing to move Waller for a pick, Cincinnati should pick up the phone and make this happen. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. only has six catches for 32 yards this season, and he’s the team’s starter.”
“The Bengals could add Waller to Smith and give the team a nice one-two punch at the position this season. New York could probably net mid-round draft compensation for Waller, who is still one of the more talented tight ends in the game. Cincinnati would benefit from making this happen.”
Waller has played solid ball in his first season with the Giants, amassing 28 catches for 281 yards and a 67.4 PFF grade (eighth among qualified TEs).
He has a steep contract after playing out the rest of his minor 2023 base salary, but the Bengals could release him in the offseason with no guaranteed money remaining on his deal.
Cincinnati needs to kick the tires on tight end and running back additions. The conference is wide open, the rookie QB deal is ending, and the Bengals can still achieve all their goals with another hot finish like in 2022. Will they push in some resources for a trade, or stand pat and hope for development/consistency?
There are plenty of worthy tight-end trade candidates to go after on top of Waller, but he’s probably the best option that could be available at the deadline.