PHOENIX, Ariz. _ Irv Smith Jr. says it came down to two AFC teams and he opted for Joe Burrow and the two-time AFC finalist Bengals over the emerging Dolphins and his old college quarterback as Burrow adds another New Orleans-bred skill player to his arsenal that just got a little more dangerous with a slippery and speedy receiving tight end.
"I felt like Cincinnati had the best chance to win a Super Bowl," Smith said Tuesday from his hometown. "It's a great organization. Great coaching staff. (Head coach) Zac Taylor was very adamant about me coming to the team knowing what I can do to help the offense. And the proof is in the pudding at the tight end position. Having a relationship with Ja'Marr (Chase), getting to play with Joe Burrow and those guys speaks for itself. 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 ... I feel like I'm almost the missing piece to get us that Super Bowl."
Throw in the fact there was only one tight end under contract (Devin Asiasi) with any NFL playing time and how much he enjoyed lunching with tight ends coach James Casey after his 2019 pro day leading up to the draft and the one-year deal was done. It was, the Bengals believe, a very good get. A guy actually faster than the very athletic Hayden Hurst and, many feel, the best tight end on the market.
The Bengals don't announce additions until the contract is signed, a detail expected this week.
Smith, who doesn't turn 25 until the week of the preseason opener, had a career-high 36 catches as a rookie before injuries wiped out all of 2021 (torn meniscus) and half of 2022 (ankle). With Burrow hooking up C.J. Uzomah to career-highs in 2021 and Hurst to the second 50-catch season of his career in 2022, he thinks he's in the right place at the right time.
That's what Irv Smith Sr. advised and it just wasn't any fatherly advice. A first-round pick of the Saints out of Notre Dame in 1993, Smith Sr. played the position in 95 games for three teams during seven seasons.
"When it came down to picking a team he was all Cincinnati," Smith Jr. said. "Just in terms of what we can do with my skill set in that offense that is already so explosive with the weapons and Coach Callahan (offensive coordinator Brian Callahan) and Zac Taylor and what they've done, the proof is in the pudding."
Smith got Burrow's phone number from the coaches, texted him Monday night and they talked Tuesday morning. Even though Smith thought playing at Alabama would help his career more than staying home at LSU, he couldn't take his eyes off the team he grew up following. Particularly the one in his rookie year in the league when Burrow and high-school rival Ja'Marr Chase led LSU to the national title.
"Once he got into the NFL, he's been outstanding. The type of person, type of leader he is," Smith said. "I don't know Joe personally. I talked to him on the phone a little bit, but I feel like I already know him just watching him from afar. He told me he was fired up to have me out there and how much I'll love the culture and if I have any questions, just let him know and he's there for me."
Smith is used to being in the middle of a stockpile of massive weaponry. At Alabama, his quarterback was Tua Tagovailoa and the wide receivers were Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III, first-round picks all. When the Vikings took Smith in the second round, he saw juggernauts in Minnesota, too, with wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. He mulled re-joining Tagovailoa and Waddle in Miami, but he also has a friendship with Chase.
They both played in New Orleans' Catholic League, Smith at Brother Martin and Chase a year behind him at Archbishop Rummel.
"We knew each other from playing against each other and the year he came out in the draft we worked out together some," Smith said. "He came over to my house a few times and hung out and we caught some balls off the Jugs machine."
The 6-2, 240-pound Smith is on the slighter side, but he can move. He had the fourth fastest 40-yard dash time in the tight end group at the 2019 scouting combine and Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell says he'll make you miss.
"He's great with the football in his hand. We found ways. Screens. On some of the keeper game, the movement game. We found ways to get him the ball," said O'Connell Tuesday at the NFL spring meetings. "Once he has the ball in the open field, he's very rarely going to get tackled by the first defender. He was having a great training camp and he had a little bit of a finger injury. It didn't slow him down by any stretch because he was still out there working, getting acclimated in our offense."
Smith, in the first year in O'Connell's system, was working on a career year last season with 22 catches when he missed eight games with an ankle injury and had a gritty comeback 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.
More Bengals Quick Hits: Joe Burrow On The Mind As NFL Teams Try To Find The AnswerReports: Bengals Ink Another Vet For NFL's 'Best Tight Ends Coach'Quick Hits: Zac Looking For Jonah To Compete At RT And More Taylor-Made Takes From NFL Meetings
"He was having that great training camp. It was tough to see that. He got off to a good start, then got dinged up with the ankle," O'Connell said. "I just liked the way he battled and came back to be a part of our team in the end and help us in week 17 and in the playoffs. I really enjoyed coaching Irv and wish him nothing but the best. I think the best thing, just because of where he is at in his career, l think there's really, really good football is out in front of Irv. I know he's motivated to go do that."
Smith agrees he's a player on the rise.
"I started playing football in the eighth grade. I was a basketball player growing up through high school. Just learning the game and developing. I feel like I'm still developing. I'm only 24 years old," Smith said. "I feel like the sky's the limit in terms of what I can do. I feel like I've proven some things, but there's a lot more on the table I want to show and this is the perfect opportunity to showcase that."
TIME OF NICK: Taylor talked Monday about doing an awkward dance with the Rams before signing L.A. starting safety Nick Scott. Rams head coach Sean McVay is one of Taylor's good friends and he didn't want to reach out to the staff and ask about Scott in case the Rams wanted to bring him back. On Tuesday, McVay confirmed what Taylor has been hearing since Scott signed last week.
"The thing I appreciate the most about Nick is he was obviously a great player who started out as a key special teams contributor and he's continued to earn every single opportunity that he got," said McVay, agreeing with the you-can't-sign-everybopdy premise. " But his play demeanor, his toughness and his consistency I think are things that really separate him. He'll be a great factor for you guys in Cincinnati. We hate to lose him, but I'm, so happy to see him go to a great place with Zac. He's earned the right to be able to get rewarded. I know he's excited about being closer to home and playing with a lot of great players. It will be fun to watch him go shine."
BOWLED OVER: One Bengal who has already shined this offseason is quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher. After Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles interviewed Pitcher for the offensive coordinator job, Pitcher decided to stay in Cincinnati. But not before Bowles was extremely impressed.
"I saw him a year ago when we played them. He does such a great job developing Joe Burrow, he does a great job schematically helping out," Bowles said. "(After) I interviewed him, I think he's going to be a heck of a coach in this league and he brings something to the table from an ingenuity standpoint about running an offense that you normally don't get in this league and I have a lot of respect for him."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: The league announced that teams can now play two short-week games on Thursday night instead of one ...
After Tuesday's meeting of the NFL competition committee, the league announced guardian caps must be used for all preseason practices when wearing helmets and in the regular season for contact practices.
The league said the reduction in concussions during the first weeks of last preseason when players wore the caps hit 52 percent. That's in comparison to a three-year average of the same position groups that wore the caps last preseason: Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, and tight ends. This season running backs and fullbacks are added to the list ...
The proposal to spot the ball at the 25-yard line on a fair catch on a kickoff inside the 25-yard line was tabled ...
The so-called quarterback push play got a lot of run in the playoffs, thanks to the Eagles being virtually unstoppable with quarterback Jalen Hurts. But after all that, it didn't come up for a vote because of the split.
"The committee definitely split on the play and whether the play should be legal or not legal. The history being we took the language out," said committee chairman Rich McKay. "And we allowed the push because of officiating. There was this concern by officials down the field in some of these goal-line (snaps), people are trying to get that two yards in open-field. It's very hard to tell when a guy is coming in to block and when a guy is coming in to push. So we took it out."