The Cincinnati Bengals faced heavy albeit fading initial backlash for drafting running back Joe Mixon in the second round in 2017. Not because of his talent, but because of his, let’s say, extracurricular activities. Six years on, he’s still in Cincinnati—for now.
Currently facing an aggravated menacing charge and coming off somewhat of a down year, Mixon is expected to be asked to take a pay cut offseason, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic, who notes that team vice president Katie Blackburn last month repeatedly used the phrase “for now” to describe his tenure with the Bengals.
The team signed Mixon to a four-year, $48 million extension in 2020. He currently has two years left on his contract and is due to earn up to $10.1 million in 2023, including a base salary of $9.4 million and up to another $700,000 in per-game and workout bonuses.
According to Dehner, it’s an “accept-the-pay-cut-or-be-let-go” situation for Mixon, who is also due another $10.4 million next year. The Bengals could open up more than $7 million in salary cap savings prior to displacement by releasing him.
But having already lost Samaje Perine out of the backfield earlier this offseason, they would probably like to try to keep Mixon, who will still only be 27 in July. But the Bengals have not been shy about addressing the position in the draft. Not only was Mixon a second-round pick, so were Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill before him.
Mixon was regarded by many as the most talented running back in the 2017 NFL Draft, with his off-field concerns being the cause of his fall. History perhaps hasn’t proven that quite right, as eighth-overall pick Christian McCaffrey alone has done pretty well for himself. There’s also Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, and James Conner, who, believe it or not, continues to exist after leaving Pittsburgh.
Regardless of whether or not he would be ranked number one in retrospect from the 2017 class, Mixon has largely had a successful career on the field. He has rushed for 5,378 yards on 1,314 career carries with 40 rushing touchdowns, adding another 1,763 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns, making the Pro Bowl in 2021.
Missing three games last season, Mixon only rushed for 814 yards in 2022 on 210 rushing attempts, though he still managed to score seven rushing touchdowns, the third-most in a single season in his career. He also had a career-high 441 receiving yards on 60 receptions—call it the Joe Burrow effect.
But is it all too much—more than it’s worth? Even without many alternatives? Right now, the Bengals don’t really have another notable running back on the roster, the most recognizable name being Trayveon Williams and his career 302 yards from scrimmage. At what price is it worth it? That’s the question the Bengals are asking themselves.