This is what happens when you come off a Super Bowl appearance in the free-agency era:
Hayden Hurst, the Bengals new starting tight end, pictured himself playing in such an offense on such a stage as he watched his future teammates come within 39 seconds of winning Super Bowl LVI last month.
"It's really cool," Hurst said Friday after signing a one- year deal that put him in the middle of quarterback Joe Burrow's crosshairs. "It's an incredible opportunity for me, for my family. I'm so happy to be here."
In the only game Hayden has played at Paul Brown Stadium, his Ravens beat the Bengals by 36 points in 2019.
Might as well be 1919.
"They've drastically changed over the years. My first two seasons in Baltimore I saw a completely different Cincinnati team," Hurst said. "In the three years they've come a hell of a long way. Just watching them in the Super Bowl, I was wondering what I would be doing put in that position."
Two other starters who were introduced Friday and also watched the Super Bowl, center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa, have already won it all. They both did it with quarterback Tom Brady and Karras won two. Clearly, Burrow, at the heart of the Bengals' transformation from maybes to must sees, is a big draw.
"You just want to go to a team that's going to be competitive and good," Cappa said. "You see that here. It's a pretty talented team, so we're excited to get to work and obviously Joe is a big part of it.
"We have to spend more time together, but obviously they're both great players. Everybody speaks very highly of Joe, so I'm, excited to spend more time with him and work together."
Karras saw the Bengals' young talent throughout the playoffs and made a call in the first 90 minutes of free agency.
"I jumped on it right away with a team that obviously has had success," Karras said. "Expectations always need to be higher. We'll put in the work and do our best to get the job done and hopefully make life easy for our QB."
Cappa knows exactly what winning means. He's never played at PBS because he was inactive his rookie year in 2018 when the Bengals beat the Bucs here at the gun. Tampa Bay went 5-11 and two years later they won it all.
"I think winning changes a lot," Cappa said. "It changes how everybody feels. It changes how people view you. Like Ted says, it's why we're here. So that changes everything."
You can't help but notice Burrow.
"It starts with the quarterback," Hurst said. "He's a rare talent that doesn't come around every day Being able to be in an offense with him is a no-brainer."
GOING TO JACKSON? It's still too early to make a call at left guard. But with five new deals (Karras, Cappa, Hurst B.J. Hill, Eli Apple) counting about $28 million under the salary cap, it's unclear if they'll try to re-sign veteran Quinton Spain, last year's starting left guard.
Their fleet of young guys, led by last year's second-rounder Jackson Carman, appear to have the early upper hand. After a tough rookie year he lost his starting right guard job twice, Carman looks to be in offensive line coach Frank Pollack's good graces these days.
"He's invested in himself on his approach this offseason," Pollack said. "I was proud of some of the choices he's making to better himself as a professional in that area."
Carman had to deal with so much in the wake of the draft. He was coming off back surgery, the Bengals moved him from left tackle to right guard and he battled to find his right playing weight. Pollack agrees that he's more natural on the left side but said his comfort level on the right side grew as the season went.
"The good news is I've got some time before the first game," Pollack said of his lineup. "I think there are still a lot of things in motion. It's kind of hard to say. You have to be flexible. Jackson is definitely a guy competing for that spot. No question about it. His learning curve and growth he showed last year definitely puts him in position to be guy that's going to compete for it."
TALKING FOOTBALL AND BASEBALL: Another reason Hurst feels so comfortable here is that he and his position coach, James Casey, were both high school flamethrowers selected in the Major League Baseball draft but left for college football when they couldn't find the plate.
Casey was a seventh-round pick of the White Sox in 2003 out of Azle High School in Texas and Hurst was a 12th-rounder of the Pirates out of The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. Casey was in for three years before going to Rice and getting drafted in the fifth round by the Texans. Hurst played 16 games as a pitcher and then designated hitter for two years, opting for South Carolina and a launching pad into that Ravens' first-round selection in 2018 at No. 25, seven slots before they took Lamar Jackson.
"I was on the phone with him the other day for 45 minutes. We've been taking all (Friday)," Hurst said of Casey. "I kind of followed his footsteps with the whole control issues and then becoming a football player, so I think me and him are going to hit it off pretty well. Having a guy like that in charge of the room who you can relate with and talk to makes coming to work enjoyable."
Hurst is already all-in with Casey's boss, head coach Zac Taylor. Hurst said on Friday he believes he's found the right system to discover his unrealized first-round potential.
"I'm confident who I am as a player and the contract, I really don't care about one year, whatever," Hurst said. "I just want opportunity … I just want a chance and I think Zac's going to give it to me here."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Hurst's girlfriend, Brooke Sharpe, played soccer at the University of Florida with Cincinnatian Liz Slattery, sister of Fifty West Brewery maven and devout Bengals fan Bobby Slattery. Sharpe has visited Cincy a few times for visits …
Karras dropped some pearls about his time in New England. He gave "a lot of credit to my career," to Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and said of all the mentors he had in the locker room the guy that came to mind first was special teams great Matthew Slater.
"Not only how he handled himself as a professional and player, he obviously performed at the highest level as a special teams player has ever performed," Karras said. "But as a man and a father. The example he provided. I could list a number of teammates I've had, but if I had to single out one it would be Matthew Slater." …
Cappa agreed to terms with the Bengals a day after Brady came out of retirement and was just as surprised as anybody else: :Maybe somebody had the inside scoop, but not me." …