INDIANAPOLIS — The Bengals are in very good hands.
Once the 2022 season ended with the AFC Championship loss in Kansas City, many observers started labeling this off-season as the most important in the 55-year history of the franchise.
In Duke Tobin, the team has a director of player personnel who doesn’t only understand the significance of the impending Joe Burrow extension, he understands the whole picture.
That much was obvious from his address to local and national media on Tuesday, as teams began their conversations with prospective NFL talent on hand for the 2023 NFL Combine.
The Bengals will certainly be focused on finalizing their evaluations of the college draft class that will be available starting April 27th. They will be looking at offensive tackles, defensive backs, tight ends and running backs.
But the bigger picture this off-season has been everything but the draft.
Consider Tobin and staff have:
“Joe has been a good player for us,” Tobin said. “He’s been a pretty key component for what we’re doing. I can’t predict what the offseason will do. I can’t predict what other deals will get done or how much money we’ll need. There might be a chance to renegociate some people on our team, there might be a chance to extend some people on our team. Again, there’s a lot of moving pieces to this. I think the blanket statement I can make is when you have a good player who is productive you do what you can to keep them on your football team. That’s what we’ll do, we’ll see how the offseason plays out, I just can’t predict it as it stands right now.”
Tobin has closely kept a pulse on each one of these issues as they relate to moving parts that will determine how the 2023 roster is put together.
But let’s make one thing very clear, it all starts with keeping Joe Burrow in stripes for the rest of this decade – at least.
“It’s not done yet. You know, it’s a good problem to have,” Tobin said. “I have been pretty vocal about what Joe means to us, and my job is to facilitate his success as best I can with putting pieces around him, and his contract will get done when it gets done. But it’s a good problem to have. He’s a vital part of what we’re doing.”
How important is it to keep this team intact?
“How important is it to keep intact? It’s vital,” Tobin continued. “It’s my job. My job is to have as many good players on our football team as we can fit in, and so it’s a challenging piece, as our players mature and earn bigger contracts and find the successes thereafter. You know, it’s our job to keep as many of them as we can. The reality of the NFL is that it’s hard to do, but it’s not possible, and we’ll fit the puzzle back together.
“Our philosophy every year is to build the best roster we possibly can, and we’re going to use every resource we have to do that and we’re going to continue doing that. The money might start going to different portions of our roster as it matures. But it’s the same every year: How can we add players, the best players available that we have access to, and how can we get our players back that have proven that they’re successful football players and part of our culture that has won the last few years.
“Sure, but it’s a good problem to have. Our quarterback, we go as he goes, and like I said, it’s our job to facilitate his success. He’s proven that he can get us there. He’s proven that he’s a championship caliber quarterback. But you know, it’s not a one-person game and we have to be ready to put some pieces around him that can facilitate his success.”
What will Burrow deal look like and what impact it will have on the cap in the first couple of years?
“I think we’ve got an idea of what that deal is going to look like, whether it’s done in completion or not,” Tobin said. “I don’t have predictions on when something might get done. It’s of vital importance to us. It’s important to Joe and we’ll work to try and get it accomplished. Again, there are some things we can control with the first and second year cap numbers and eventually the dollars have to count. And we want to be responsible on how we count those dollars so we don’t get into issues as we go along in the out years. I just can’t predict when it’s going to get done but we’re aware of the range it’s going to be.”
Tobin is fully aware that if Burrow receives a contract comparable to the 10-year, $450 million contract that Patrick Mahomes received after the 2019 season, there will be a domino effect on the rest of the roster.
Duke Tobin says a Joe Burrow deal "gets done when it gets done" Knows full well what it means to extend Bengals franchise QB. pic.twitter.com/VDS50ZBrFt
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) March 1, 2023
“We’re going to worry about it first and we’ll see what it gets done,” Tobin said. “We have some ability to control the cap hit for Year One with doing some other things, but we’ll see how it goes. Maybe it’s the first piece to come. Maybe it’s the last. But we’ll work towards it. I don’t think that we’re totally handcuffed with some other things as the process plays out. But obviously, sooner is better. But we’re not going to rush the process. We’re going to try to get the right deal for Joe and for the Cincinnati Bengals.”
One thing Tobin wasn’t breathing any life into were the silly rumors that wide receiver Tee Higgins would be considered trade bait just because he’s headed into the final year of his rookie deal and has power agent David Mulugheta as his agent.
“He’s a good player for us,” Tobin told me. “In my mind, why would I want to give up a good player for us. He’s a valuable component of what we do. We drafted him for a reason, we’ve developed him for a reason, he plays for a reason. He’s under contract to us. He gives us the best chance for us to be a successful football team. I’m not in the business of trying to figure out how to make other teams better. I’m in the business of trying to keep our team at the top.
“Another vital part of our team. He’s exactly what we’re hoping for when we draft a guy: A guy we draft who fits a role that we develop in a lot of way, does it the right way, fits into our culture and Tee is an exceptional football player. I envision him being a part of what we’re doing going forward for a long time. That’s the hope. We want our guys, especially our guys who come in, to prove that they can help us win in a big way.”
Duke Tobin rules out trading Tee Higgins. Calls it "ridiculous" talk pic.twitter.com/MfxPchr6bb
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) February 28, 2023
“I’m not in the business of making other teams better. I’m in the business of making the Cincinnati Bengals better. That’s not on my mind. They want a receiver, go find your own. In my opinion, Tee Higgins is a good piece for the Cincinnati Bengals. So the trade stuff is a little ridiculous right now.”
Tobin, in offering his first postmortem since the 23-20 loss to the Chiefs, offered his best hint that he is very optimistic for the 2023 edition of the Bengals.
“A couple plays. Maybe a call here or there. When you get to that point, you’re a good enough team to win it all,” Tobin said. “And we’re a good enough team to win it all. You have to have the break at the right point. And we didn’t get those, not against Kansas City this year. But we feel confident we can get back. We felt this team really came together, probably a little better team overall than the team last year because we were a little more mature in our processes and some of our players had a little more experience in big game situations.
“And we’ve got guys with big game experience coming back next year. So our expectations are super high. And when we get to that point, and when any team gets to that point, it’s always gonna be super close. It’s gonna be a close-run thing, and you’re gonna need a break at the right time and we didn’t get it this year.”
Now, the roster building work begins in earnest to make Tobin look like not just a great roster builder but an even better prognosticator.