Tight end Hayden Hurst did not take it personally when the salary cap-strapped Falcons passed on a $5.4 million fifth-year option in May, just a few days after selecting Kyle Pitts fourth overall in the NFL draft.
It’s all business.
“It’s a big year for me, now,” Hurst said Thursday. “Obviously, being a free agent at the end of the year. I’ve got my priorities in line, and I know what I need to do this year.”
The Falcons discussed re-signing Hurst to a contract lower than his option number. But Hurst, who’s set to make $1.9 million, bet on himself.
“It was mentioned in the meeting, but I think those talks will start as the season goes, maybe,” Hurst said. “Again, that’s kind of above my pay grade. I’m just going to go out there and do my job and see what happens.”
Hurst was acquired in a trade with Baltimore in March 2020 for a second-round pick that year (which turned into running back J.K. Dobbins). He was acquired to replace Austin Hooper, whom the Falcons couldn’t re-sign. Hooper landed a four-year, $42 million deal, with $23 million guaranteed, from the Cleveland Browns after the 2019 season.
Hurst caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns last season. Because of poor pass blocking, the Falcons were not able to use his vertical speed. Matt Ryan was sacked 41 times, so there was not much time for Hurst to get down the field vertically.
Hurst was not taken aback by the drafting of the talented Pitts.
“I think it’s obviously a benefit,” Hurst said. “Kyle is an extremely incredible athlete. I think it’s only going to help him, help us as an offense having him on the field.”
Hurst is aware that the Titans played four tight ends at least 200 snaps last season, when new Falcons coach Arthur Smith was their offensive coordinator.
“I think a lot of the stuff that we are going to do is out of multiple tight-end (formations),” Hurst said. “I thought (the selection of Pitts) was a good thing. He’s going to draw a lot of attention when he’s out on the field. So, I think it’s going to help everybody across the board.”
Last year, things went sideways with defensive end Takk McKinley after the Falcons elected not to pick up his fifth-year option. He was injured after a few games and then demanded a trade on social media before the team cut him outright.
“Hayden has done a nice job day-to-day,” Smith said. “Hayden is a really valuable member of this football team, and we have high expectations for Hayden. He knows that.”
There are no obvious signs of friction between Hurst and the Falcons.
“There has been direct communication, but very pleased with Hayden’s maturity and what he’s brought day in and day out here so far,” Smith said.
Hurst believes he can meet those high expectations.
“Absolutely, I think what I bring to the table is pretty unique as far as my vertical speed,” Hurst said. “You know, how I’m able to move at my size. I think the way that I play in games, my tempo is unmatched, too. I’m excited.”
Hurst likes the Falcons’ tight end-heavy attack.
“I think it’s a great offense,” Hurst said. “Finally, in my fourth year, going to get utilized vertically. That’s what I was able to do well in college and then finally an offensive coordinator can see that and hopefully utilize it this year.”
Hurst is looking forward to a tight end summit later this month in Nashville. Tight ends George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Greg Olson have put together a three-day camp to help players at the position.
“You are going to have all of the top tight ends from around the league working out a little bit, just hanging out,” Hurst said. “It’s going to be awesome. You get on the field with those guys and you get to pick their brains on how they break down coverages and stuff like that. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity.”
He doesn’t have a particular tight end who he looks forward to working with.
“There are different ways to break down man coverage or (sit down) in a zone and kind of running certain routes,” Hurst said. “Just getting different perspectives, I think will just sharpen your own game.”
Hurst said that he’s been working out since February and improved his diet. He said he’s down to 8% body fat.
“I’m definitely on a mission this year,” Hurst said. “I’ve got a lot of reasons to play a little bit harder this year.”
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