The Ravens rarely trade a first-round draft pick after just two seasons. However, the decision to deal Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons was triggered by his desire for more playing time.
A first-round pick in 2018 (25th overall), Hurst was not as heavily targeted as he hoped with 43 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns over two seasons with Baltimore. The Ravens have two other young talented tight ends who play key roles in the offense – Mark Andrews, who made the Pro Bowl in his second season, and Nick Boyle, one of the NFL's top blocking tight ends.
The trade process began when Hurst expressed his desire for a bigger role after the season. Hurst knew he could play more if he played elsewhere, and General Manager Eric DeCosta understood.
"I had a discussion with Hayden's agent and also with Hayden," DeCosta said on "The Lounge" podcast, detailing the trade that sent Hurst and a fourth-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for second- and fifth-round picks in the 2020 NFL draft.
"These guys that play the game, they want to play. I understand that. There was a feeling that if he had a chance to play with someone else that he'd welcome that. You weigh those decisions. It's a business. We've got to do what's best for the player sometimes, but it's got to also be what's best for the club. I made the decision based on conversations that I had with Hayden and with his agent that if a team was able to match what I would consider fair compensation for Hayden that we would consider trading him."
The Hurst trade talks accelerated in February at the NFL Scouting Combine when DeCosta met with Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, a long-time friend of DeCosta's. Atlanta quickly emerged as the frontrunner to acquire Hurst.
"There were probably three or four teams in the mix," DeCosta said. "We weighed all those different things. As we got moving further along, it became clear that Atlanta was probably the team that had the most interest, although there were two other teams that had significant interest as well. My relationship with Thomas Dimitroff and also the fact that he would have a chance to be close to home and with (quarterback) Matt Ryan - I wanted to put Hayden in a position where he was going to succeed. Because of that I think Atlanta made a lot sense."
The deal gives Baltimore significant clout in the first three rounds of the draft – one first round pick, two second-round picks and two third-round picks. And, while DeCosta wishes Hurst the best, there is an added bonus of Hurst having a chance to shine in Atlanta without hurting the Ravens, who only face the Falcons once every four seasons.
"That was a factor," DeCosta said. "You trade a player to a rival, or a team that has a big need at that position that you play against quite a bit, that's a bad feeling when you do that and those guys make plays against you.
"We felt like (Atlanta) would be a great spot for Hayden to go and be a productive player. He's a guy who has a lot of talent and we have a lot of talent at that position. Hayden really wanted a chance to be a productive player, to be what he thought was going to be as a starter, as a guy who could really be an important piece of the puzzle for a team. Being from, Jacksonville, Atlanta was a very attractive place for him to play."