Joe Mixon is staying with the Bengals after all, recently agreeing to ahead of the 2023 NFL season. It's not an unexpected outcome for the former Pro Bowler, who would've been owed more than all but two running backs this year.
But what does Mixon's new deal mean for the big-name backs who remain unsigned? Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette are just a few of the former Pro Bowlers who have yet to find new homes as training camps approach. And that's not accounting for the financial scuffles between current stars like Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley, who've threatened extended holdouts from the Raiders and Giants, respectively, while negotiating under the franchise tag.
Let's start by examining Mixon's new numbers: originally due almost $12.8 million in 2023 as part of a four-year extension signed in 2020, per Over the Cap, the seventh-year veteran will now earn a base salary of $5.5M this year, according to NFL Media, with an additional $2M available in incentives. Mixon also agreed to reduce his 2024 earnings by almost $4.7M, per Ian Rapoport.
Even factoring in the maximum incentives, Mixon's potential $7.5M haul in 2023 would put him outside this year's top 10 projected earners, behind the Cardinals' James Conner ($9.5M) and Saints' Alvin Kamara ($8.2M), who's . It represents a steep drop for the Bengals' lead ball-carrier, whose previous $12M annual average made him the fifth-highest-paid back in the game.
The obvious implication is that similarly accomplished backs like Cook, Elliott and, to a lesser degree, Fournette could struggle to sniff top-10 earnings. But that was already the case with both Elliott and Fournette, who will each be 28 at the start of the season (roughly a year older than Mixon) and haven't topped the Bengals vet in most basic categories the last two seasons:
|RB (stats since 2021)||Rush Yards||YPA||Receiving Yards||Total TDs|
Cook may be affected as well, especially if he's truly been Vikings standout has done it better for longer, looking for his fifth straight 1,100-yard season in 2023. He's also never averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per carry, making him a more consistently efficient starting option. The real X-factor in Cook's contract talks is probably the resolution of Barkley and Jacobs' tag situations (or lack thereof); assuming both backs stay put and/or hold out under the tag, Cook's hope for an elevated RB market could be postponed until 2024., as has been widely reported. But he's always been a tier above Mixon in terms of production. Though the Bengals vet has more TDs the last two seasons, with Cook only reaching the end zone 16 times, the former
The one saving grace for the unsigned RBs when it comes to Mixon's new deal is the Bengals starter's legal history. On-field production is the driving force behind restructured deals, but Cook, Elliott and others could make the case they have a cleaner recent track record off the field. Cincinnati's leadership previously left the door open for Mixon's departure this offseason amid two different gun-related incidents -- a February arrest that led to an aggravated menacing charge, to which Mixon pled not guilty; and an alleged March shooting in which he was not charged. The running back previously received multiple suspensions at Oklahoma, first for a misdemeanor assault charge and then for violating team rules.
Pointing to Mixon's legal encounters won't necessarily convince an NFL team that other aging, solid but unspectacular backs are worth more than modest money in 2023, but it's possible the Bengals would've been slower to reduce their starter's pay if he'd avoided the distractions.