If the Cincinnati Bengals want to keep Tee Higgins as part of their core, they have a lot of work to do. Higgins and the Bengals are reportedly nowhere close to reaching a contract extension prior to the start of the season, putting his future with the franchise beyond 2023 in doubt.
A free agent after this season, Higgins has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons serving as the No. 2 wideout in Cincinnati's high-powered offense next to Ja'Marr Chase. This season may be his last in Cincinnati as the Bengals don't see Higgins in their future plans beyond 2023. The Bengals did offer Higgins a contract extension this offseason (per the Cincinnati Enquirer), but he declined believing he can get more money when he hits free agency.
What should the Bengals do with Higgins for 2023? Or does Cincinnati let him walk after the year and chase Super Bowl glory with Higgins before deciding to move on? The Bengals have a few options to consider:
1. Sign Higgins to a mega contract over coming months
There is plenty of time for the Bengals and Higgins to agree to a contract extension, even if Higgins wants to get paid like one of the top receivers in football. While Higgins may not be in the Bengals' future plans, those plans could always change based on how both parties approach the year.
The Bengals know they'll be getting the best football from Higgins in 2023 as he's playing for a long-term deal -- from the Bengals or another franchise. For a team that is a Super Bowl contender, that will be immensely beneficial come January. Higgins could have a career year before he decides to leave the building for good.
If Higgins proves he's worth between $24 million to $30 million a year -- which is what the top-five highest-paid receivers get annually -- perhaps the Bengals reverse course and give him the contract he seeks. Still six months until March.
2. Trade Higgins now or before trade deadline
Do the Bengals just decide to forego Super Bowl aspirations and move on from Higgins now? Higgins isn't likely to come back to Cincinnati after this season and can fetch a ton of draft capital. There are plenty of teams that could use Higgins as a No. 1 receiver and he could command even more money with a strong finish to the year -- while helping another contender reach the postseason.
The Bengals could get multiple draft picks for Higgins, especially since teams tend to pay more for premium players during the season. Having two first-round picks (their own and one they acquired) would significantly benefit Cincinnati in 2024 while keeping a young core around Joe Burrow for several years. The Bengals might be able to land a first-round receiver who is better than Higgins.
3. Franchise tag Higgins, then trade him
The Bengals aren't likely to tag Higgins based on how much it would cost them on the franchise tag. The franchise tag amount for a wide receiver in 2024 is projected to be $22.917 million (per Over The Cap), money the Bengals don't have after paying Burrow $55 million per year and having a looming contract extension for Chase. Let's not forget the other big contracts they gave Orlando Brown, Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard and others.
Sure the Bengals could tag Higgins and deal him off for immense draft capital, which would be a smart business strategy. They just may not have the available cap space to pull it off, preventing them from signing other free agents and improving the roster next offseason. There's also no guarantee Higgins agrees to the tag (unless he knows he can get a long-term deal with another team).
4. Franchise tag Higgins, then keep him for a year
Based on the Bengals' cap situation, this isn't an option at this point. Higgins doesn't have to sign the tag anyway, putting the Bengals in an even bigger pickle. If the Bengals do tag Higgins and decide to keep him for a year, use the franchise tag deadline in mid-July to buy more time and work out a long-term deal.
Tagging Higgins and keeping him on a fully guaranteed contract for a year isn't cap friendly. The Bengals are just pushing their problems back a year, unless they want to extend the high-powered offense of Burrow, Chase, Higgins, and Joe Mixon for one more season in search of a championship.