Drafting well is pretty important for a team to be successful. Sustained success depends either on remarkably consistent drafting excellence, supreme thriftiness on the open market, or ponying up to keep the talent that you do bring in.
The Cincinnati Bengals are coming to that point, with their young trio of offensive stars due to be paid, and handsomely. While fourth-year quarterback Joe Burrow is the main target, and third-year wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is not far behind, the first item on the agenda is Tee Higgins.
A second-round pick right behind Burrow in 2020, Higgins is entering the final year of his rookie contract, the time that good teams like to sign their core talent to extensions before they hit the open market or force a franchise tag situation.
It didn’t work out that way with former Bengals safety Jessie Bates III, who finally left for elsewhere in free agency this year following a season played under the tag. Will they be able to retain Higgins while also paying Burrow and Chase in the future? That seems to be the plan, as they shot down rumors of a trade last month. Getting him paid is another matter.
“Right now I’m just preparing for the season, I’m not really worried about the contract”, the wide receiver recently said on the Pat McAfee Show, as transcribed by Josh Alper for Pro Football Talk. “Obviously, I want to get a deal done but I let my agent handle that and you know right now just for me getting my body right for next season”.
these are pretty boilerplate comments for a player in his position, though others have been more vocal in the past. The aforementioned Bates was not happy at all about failing to get an extension done ahead of his fourth season and expressed a desire not to play under the tag.
If the Bengals don’t get a deal done with Higgins before the season starts—and I don’t believe they’re a team who likes to negotiate in-season—then they’ll have a limited window in February to complete a new deal before a decision has to be made.
That decision will start with whether or not it’s worth placing a franchise or transition tag on him, and whether or not they can reasonably compete for his services on the open market. Assuming he continues to perform as he has, it’s unlikely that they will.
Over the past three seasons, Higgins has recorded 215 receptions for the Bengals for 3028 yards and 19 touchdowns, showing consistent production year to year rather than ebbs and flows. He has another 31 receptions for 457 yards and three touchdowns in six career postseason contests.
But he’s not going to be the top receiver on a team with Burrow and Chase as the go-to combo. Chase had 87 receptions a year ago in just 12 games played with 1046 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He is averaging 86.2 yards per game in his career. He also has 45 receptions for 588 yards and three touchdowns in six postseason games. Everybody knows where the top money is going to go. The question is how much will be left for Higgins and if he will be willing to accept it.