The Falcons traded a 2nd-round draft pick on the pass catcher just last offseason.
Thomas Dimitroff traded a second-round pick for Hayden Hurst in the 2020 offseason. Hurst, an athletic pass-catching tight end, was picked one slot ahead of Calvin Ridley in the 2018 NFL draft. The assumption was the Falcons had taken a look at, and really liked, Hurst. When the Baltimore Ravens put him on the trading block, Dimitroff traded Mohamed Sanu for Hurst, albeit in a three-way trade.
Hurst, coming off of two disappointing seasons in Baltimore, looked improved in Atlanta. He produced career-bests in 571 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. However, those numbers had to be somewhat disappointing. Hurst disappeared for long stretches despite showing some serious highlight reel skills between.
With new head coach Arthur Smith in Atlanta, there were questions with how Hurst fit in the new scheme. Hurst may have loads of potential catching the ball. However, he struggles mightily when asked to block. That may work under Dirk Koetter, but Smith expects more versatility out of his players. Smith can’t risk tipping the play by replacing Hurst with blocking specialist Lee Smith on run downs.
So it was no surprise to see the Falcons turn down Hurst’s fifth-year option.
The Atlanta Falcons are not exercising the fifth-year option on tight end Hayden Hurst, per source. He’ll be a free agent in 2022.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 3, 2021
This was almost a certainty the second Atlanta selected Kyle Pitts. Pitts, an unprecedented talent, is expected to be a significant upgrade both catching and blocking. The versatility will let the team run different plays out of the same formation to keep defenses guessing.
Hurst will turn 28 before the start of the 2021 season. Sadly for Hurst, he had a limited opportunity for success due to his age. The move is still somewhat surprising. The new CBA modified the cost for the fifth-year option, and Atlanta could have retained Hurst for a reasonably $5.4 million. That is not a lot for a tight end, but it feels expensive for a backup.
Fontenot may also be looking at adding comp picks. Atlanta’s cap issues are sure to extend into 2022. Meaning if the Falcons can lose players after 2021, new signings are unlikely to offset those losses, netting Atlanta some additional picks. Depending on Hurst’s 2021 season, he could land the Falcons a 4th or 5th round comp pick.
Regardless of if he stayed, Hurst was certain to take an immediate backseat to Pitts. Now he will hit free agency after the season, assuming Fontenot doesn’t try trading Hurst ahead of the trade deadline.