PHOENIX, Ariz. _ On Monday, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor called his tight ends coach the best in the league. By the end of the day James Casey received what looks to be his new Opening Day starter when multiple reports said the Bengals agreed to a one-year deal with the Vikings' Irv Smith Jr.
And for the third straight year Casey is looking to revive the career of a young veteran coming off an injury or a down season. In 2021 C.J. Uzomah came off a torn Achilles for a career year and last year Hayden Hurst doubled his catches after grabbing just 26 in Atlanta the year before. Both moved on with multi-year deals.
Casey also may get another player next month via a draft deep with tight ends.
Smith was working on a career year last year with 22 catches when he missed eight games with an ankle injury before coming back to make three catches for 14 yards in the finale and one catch for a three-yard touchdown in the Vikings' Wild Card loss to the Giants.
The 6-2, 240-pound Smith, who has started 15 of his 37 games, averages 9.4 yards per his 91 career catches to go with nine touchdowns. Working with Casey and quarterback Joe Burrow, Uzomah averaged 10.1 yards per catch with five touchdowns in 2021 and last year Hurst averaged eight yards and had two touchdowns. The Bengals get another young playoff veteran. Smith turns 25 in training camp with three-four catches for 42 yards and a touchdown in the postseason.
For the second time Monday, the Bengals added a 2019 second-round pick who is getting their careers on track after injury. Smith, the 50th pick, missed the 2021 season with a torn meniscus. Earlier in the day the Bengals signed cornerback Sidney Jones IV, the 43rd pick by the Eagles who missed all but one game of his rookie season with an Achilles injury. They come after last week's deals for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and safety Nick Scott.
Smith joins Devin Asiasi on the roster as the only tight ends with NFL snaps. Mitchell Wilcox and Drew Sample are free agents, but appearing here at the NFL spring meeting on Monday Taylor wasn't worried.
"We're just taking it slowly right now. But we've got plans. We talk about it every day. I feel good about where it's going to end up," said Taylor before the Bengals grabbed the tight end many felt was the best on the market. "I think James Casey is the best tight ends coach in the NFL. Tell me a player that hasn't reached his full potential under James Casey and it will be the first one I've seen. It's not that you just want to say OK, here, we're not going to give you the full reign of every available tight end. So you want to be able to do that. We're going to find some guys that fit that room as well. We're not done there yet certainly, but at the same time James has done just a masterful job helping those guys reach their potential."
Smith's father Irv Smith Sr. played tight end in 95 games and had 183 catches during seven seasons for the 1990s Saints, 49ers and Browns.