One of the staples of an NFL offseason is the circulation of rumors about players being on the trade block, most of which never surface. Some of them may actually have had substance but simply never materialized. Others may have been total fictions. Sometimes it’s the team telling a story before actually substantiating the rumor.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not immune to this. They have talked about having no plans to trade Martavis Bryant and Chase Claypool, for example, before trading them both. Even if they admittedly got disproportionately good value in both cases.
The Steelers are again the subject of idle trade speculation this offseason concerning quarterback Mitch Trubisky, which probably has less merit than most since nobody wants to trade for an $8 million backup quarterback. But perhaps the largest target has been Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins.
Going into his fourth season, Higgins would normally be due for an extension this offseason. But the Bengals already have to work out an extension with quarterback Joe Burrow, and it’s clear that if they’re going to keep any wide receiver for the long term, it’s going to be Ja’Marr Chase.
That’s the foundation upon which the speculation has always been grounded. Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, however, claimed at the NFL Scouting Combine yesterday that there is nothing in it—and that it would be contrary to their interests.
“I’m in the business of making the Cincinnati Bengals better and so trading Tee Higgins is not on my mind”, he said about the notion of trading one of their talented pass catchers to improve another team’s offense, via Tyler Dragon for the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s their problem. They want a receiver, go find your own. In my opinion, Tee Higgins is a good piece for the Cincinnati Bengals”.
A second-round draft choice in 2020, Higgins has been a model of consistency with 215 receptions for 3,028 yards and 19 touchdowns in his three seasons of play in 46 total games played. He will get you about 72 catches a year for 1,000 yards and 6-7 touchdowns, and as your number two receiver, that’s good eatin’.
But what would it cost to lock him in long-term while also preserving the space to retain more essential staples like Burrow and Chase? And if that cost isn’t reasonable, what kind of trade compensation would the Bengals have to get to be willing to move him now rather than watch him leave in free agency a year from now?
After all, if the Steelers got a second-round pick for Claypool, there’s hardly a reason in the world to imagine that Higgins couldn’t fetch a similar price. Tobin will naturally be inclined at this time to call the trade speculation “a little ridiculous”, but it may take no more than one phone call to have him privately singing a different tune.