Bengals Coverage

Bengals Beat: It’s Anybody’s Guess What’s Going To Happen With Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins And Rest Of Roster

CINCINNATI – We are entering the crazy season of the NFL offseason for the Bengals, and we haven’t even warmed up the food for the Super Bowl party.

Every Bengal fan right now ranges from curious to obsessed with what the team is going to do to lock up their future with contract extensions for Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins on offense and Logan Wilson on defense.

Those feelings are justified given what’s at stake for the Stripes in the next 3-5 years.

The Bengals will be in prime position to compete for Super Bowls for the next half-decade, at least.

They have a generational quarterback who – in his first two full seasons in the NFL – has taken the Bengals to one Super Bowl and within a hairsbreadth of another. Burrow has a 5-2 playoff mark in the last two seasons, matching the franchise’s playoff win total in the 52 seasons before he came to town.

They have a freakishly gifted wide receiver in Ja’Marr Chase, who belongs in any discussion of top-3 receivers in the NFL. They have another long ball threat in Tee Higgins, who is equal parts Randy Moss and A.J. Green, a receiver able to high point any pass from Burrow and battle to bring it down in his possession as he showed in key moments throughout the regular season and playoffs.

What Chase indicated on NFL Network Wednesday about Burrow’s willingness to structure his upcoming contract extension to keep weapons is certainly a small window peek but it certainly isn’t a view of the whole room. The Bengals will get a deal done with Burrow. How many years and money is anyone’s guess.

“Joe knows how he wants to set his contract up so he can keep his weapons around him,” Chase told the network.

There are arguments to be made for only five years, giving Burrow the chance to reset the market, and for as many as 8-10 years, giving Burrow the financial security that Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson enjoy.

The Bengals enter the offseason with roughly $36 million in cap space, sixth-most in the NFL. That’s a good position to be in when you’ve got a boatload of critical decisions to make.

What will the Bengals do? Well, they are going to do what they can to keep Burrow happy and be responsible enough to keep great players around him. Burrow and his agent Brian Ayrault know this.

What makes the most sense for the Bengals and Burrow? It’s total guesswork without being in the room to consider the laundry list of intricate details and clauses that come with a contract like this. That might sound vague but that’s the truth. Speculation is rampant but without intimate knowledge on the inside, it’s just that – speculation.

The Bengals then must decide to do with five players that are cap casualty candidates. Trey Hendrickson ($10.5 million in potential savings pre-June 1), Tyler Boyd ($8.9 million), Joe Mixon ($7.3 million), Chido Awuzie ($6.4 million) and La’el Collins ($6.2 million).

Again, this is pure guesswork, but one would think Hendrickson stays as one of the best pure edge rushers in the NFL. Awuzie, if he’s fully healthy, is a No. 1 corner. Tyler Boyd is a glue guy in the locker room and has proven to be one of the most reliable slot receivers in football. That leaves Mixon (dropped charges aside) and Collins as the most likely.

If the Bengals weren’t in such great shape with their cap, then 4-of-5 cap cuts would seem realistic. But the team doesn’t want to lose the likes of DJ Reader, Hendrickson or Awuzie on a defense or Boyd on offense.

The case of Tee Higgins figures to be a little dicier. As everyone knows by now, Higgins has the same agent – David Mulugheta – as Jessie Bates and Joseph Ossai. The Bengals and Mulugheta have never worked out a contract extension.

The rift between Mulugheta and the Bengals led to Bates playing the 2022 season on a $12.9 million tag. One could certainly extrapolate the same is likely to happen in 2024 for Higgins at figure that could be twice that.

Higgins can be franchised after next season and Chase is a first rounder so, he is guaranteed to be on the roster through 2025, assuming the Bengals pick up the fifth-year option. That means the worst-case scenario involves the Bengals and Burrow having their top two receivers in house through 2024.

The thought of a trade bringing back top picks is highly questionable on at least three fronts. Higgins offers proven production with a quarterback who already has developed significant chemistry with him and trusts him to battle for the ball.

Higgins, coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and Chase already work together incredibly well in their pattern structures downfield. And finally, while several rookie receivers have stepped in for other teams and produced, few rookies can be expected to step in and offer the production Higgins brings when he’s healthy.

Still, it’s no secret that Higgins could be dealt for a top draft pick if the team doesn’t feel an extension will happen and the money he’s asking is too rich. Is two years of Higgins worth the gamble on a receiver to take his place in the Bengals offense?

While Higgins and Burrow get so much attention on the offensive side of the ball, what’s happening on defense deserves just as much focus.

Logan Wilson is the most likely to extend with the Bengals. As we covered previously, while Germaine Pratt wants to compete for Super Bowls and would love to do it in Cincinnati, he also wants to get paid what he feels he’s worth after four seasons in the NFL. Pratt figures to be elsewhere when the 2023 Bengals season kicks off.

Wilson was drafted in 2020 and is in the final year of his rookie deal. He is eligible for an extension and a deal like Sam Hubbard’s four-year, $40 million extension seems reasonable and realistic.

Say goodbye to Bates and likely Eli Apple. But holding onto Vonn Bell would made a lot of sense for a secondary who relied on Bell for leadership last season.

The point of all of this is really to bring awareness to the issues the Bengals face. Pretending to know how the Bengals will move or attack these collectively or individually seems silly at this point.

There’s a lot on the table for Katie and Troy Blackburn once the confetti stops falling in Arizona Sunday night and a new Super Bowl champ is crowned. The two top negotiating football executives in the front office have no doubt already begun the planning for how they’re going to attack salary cap battles on multiple fronts.

Mike Petraglia

Joined CLNS Media in 2017. Covered Boston sports as a radio broadcaster, reporter, columnist and TV and video talent since 1993. Covered Boston Red Sox for MLB.com from 2000-2007 and the New England Patriots for ESPN Radio, WBZ-AM, SiriusXM, WEEI, WEEI.com and CLNS since 1993. Featured columnist for the Boston Celtics on CelticsBlog.

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