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Late for Work 2/23: Hayden Hurst Seems Fired Up About Hypothetical Return to Ravens

Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst (81) runs the ball during an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, December 12, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hayden Hurst Seems Fired Up About Hypothetical Return to Ravens

One of the ways social media has affected sports is that it just takes one emoji or "like" to fuel speculation about a player's interest in signing with a team.

A recent example involves former Ravens tight end and pending free agent Hayden Hurst.

In response to an Instagram post by a Ravens fan page that asked if the team should bring back the 2018 first-round pick, Hurst liked it and replied with two fire emojis.

"Hurst has always been vocal about how much he enjoyed his time as a Raven, but an abundance of talented tight ends and the emergence of Mark Andrews left too many mouths to feed in the tight end room," Russell Street Report’s Kevin McNeils wrote. "If Nick Boyle's health is still a question mark entering next season, Hurst's potential return could just be a matter of the right price tag."

Even if Boyle is fully healthy, a reunion with Hurst would make sense for the Ravens. The three-headed monster at tight end of Andrews, Boyle and Hurst was a key component of the Ravens' potent offense in 2019.

Hurst was traded the following offseason to the Atlanta Falcons (for a package that included a 2020 second-round pick, who turned out to be running back J.K. Dobbins), and the lack of a second pass-catching tight end hindered the Ravens' offense the past two seasons.

"Josh Oliver was a relative nonfactor in 2021, hauling in just nine catches for 66 yards in 14 games," Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried wrote. "The Ravens have long been a team that requires tight end depth and they just don't have it at the moment. With so many other needs and very little cap space, Hurst would need to sign at a reasonable price to make a deal work, but it is something to keep in mind."

In Hurst's first season with the Falcons, he posted career-highs in catches (56), receiving yards (571) and touchdowns (six). Hurst's role diminished last season as rookie Kyle Pitts, the fourth-overall selection in the draft, took over as the starter. Hurst finished with 26 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

Pro Football Focus Proposes Trade Scenario That Reunites Za'Darius Smith With Ravens

Speaking of potential reunions with former Ravens, the possibility of Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith being cut and returning to Baltimore was discussed in Monday’s Late for Work.

Now Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger is linking Smith to the Ravens. In looking at potential trades this offseason, Spielberger proposed a scenario in which Baltimore acquires Smith in exchange for a fourth-round compensatory pick. The Ravens would inherit Smith's one-year, $15.75 million contract.

"The Ravens are projected to have five fourth-round picks, including multiple compensatory picks, and they've done a good job of flipping Day 3 selections for proven starters the past few years, such as when they acquired interior defender Calais Campbell from the Jaguars for a fifth-rounder in 2020," Spielberger wrote. "Campbell will be 36 years old in Week 1 of 2022, though he's shown very few signs of slowing down. Smith slots right in as a pass-rusher who can win from anywhere along the defensive line."

A fourth-round pick by the Ravens in 2015, Smith had a breakout season in 2018 when he recorded 8.5 sacks. The following offseason, he signed a four-year, $66-million contract with the Packers.

Smith totaled 26 sacks in his first two seasons in Green Bay and was named to the Pro Bowl both years. He played in just one regular-season game last year because of a back injury that required surgery. Smith returned for the playoffs and registered a sack in just 19 snaps.

"Smith was reportedly unhappy with how his contract was handled prior to the [2021] season, and it's possible he would rather be outright released so he can choose his next team," Spielberger wrote. "However, the thinking here is he would be excited to return to the team that drafted him, and perhaps contract particulars can get sorted out at a later date."

DeShon Elliott Identified As Ravens' Top Franchise Tag Candidate

With the NFL franchise tag window opening yesterday, CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr identified one franchise tag candidate for every team. For the Ravens, it's safety DeShon Elliott.

"The Ravens don't have too many candidates who deserve the franchise tag, but Elliott would be the player to use it on if necessary," Kerr wrote.

The projected franchise tag value for a safety is $13 million, per Spotrac.

"Baltimore can get Elliott for cheaper, but he's an impact player when healthy (placed on injured reserve in three of his four seasons)," Kerr wrote. "In his healthy season (2020), Elliott started all 16 games and recorded 80 tackles with 2.5 sacks and four passes defensed — and allowed just 58.1% of passes thrown his way to be completed as the primary defender (73.7 rating)."

Our Garrett Downing said he doesn't expect the Ravens to use the franchise tag this year.

"Teams essentially have to pay that player as one of the highest-paid players in the league at their position, with their entire salary counting against the cap for the upcoming year," Downing said. "The Ravens are already prepared to do that essentially with quarterback Lamar Jackson potentially playing this season on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. It would be difficult to do that with another player who would then be under the franchise tag."

The Ravens have used the franchise tag nine times in their history, most recently with outside linebacker Matthew Judon in 2019. The franchise tag window is open through March 8.

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