Bengals leave door ajar on tagged Higgins’ future

NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — Cincinnati Bengals executive Duke Tobin emphasized how much better the roster is when wide receiver Tee Higgins is on it.

But unlike last year’s NFL scouting combine when Tobin emphatically shot down the notion that Higgins could be on the move, Cincinnati’s director of player personnel left the door somewhat ajar when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday.

“In terms of our intentions going forward and answering hypotheticals of what could and couldn’t come about, I won’t get into that, but we feel like we’re a better team with him,” Tobin said during his session at the Indianapolis Convention Center. “The reason we franchised him is because we would like to have him. He’s not under contract and it’s hard for me to predict all the different scenarios that could happen.”

The Bengals officially placed the franchise tag on Higgins on Monday. That guarantees Cincinnati the right to sign Higgins to a one-year deal worth $21.8 million for the upcoming season. Higgins, a second-round pick in the 2020 draft, is at the end of an expiring rookie contract.

Tobin said that as soon as the NFL announced the salary cap for each team in 2024, the Bengals didn’t delay the decision to give Higgins the franchise tag. In a side session with local reporters, Tobin also said it’s hard to know how hard it is to trade a player who is on the one-year contract and reiterated the team’s desire for Higgins to be on the roster for 2024.

“He fits us perfectly, so we tagged him for that reason,” Tobin said. “The hypotheticals of what could happen, you know, it’s hard for me to comment on.”

It was very different than what Tobin said in 2023 when asked about potential trade speculation involving Higgins as he entered the end of his rookie deal.

“I’m in the business of making the Cincinnati Bengals better, and so trading Tee Higgins is not on my mind,” Tobin said in Feb. 2023. “That’s their problem. [If] they want a receiver, go find your own.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the call informing Higgins that he received the franchise tag was brief, and he let the receiver know how much he values the relationship with the young playmaker.

“It is the business side,” Taylor said. “I understand it can be frustrating. Tee has not given me any of that. We’re just excited to attack this off-season and see where it goes from there.”

In four seasons, Higgins has been one of the team’s prominent playmakers. In his time with the Bengals, he has 257 catches for 3,684 yards and 24 touchdowns. He had more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2021 and 2022, the years the Bengals won the AFC North and made deep playoff runs, including a Super Bowl LVI appearance.

This past season, Higgins was hampered by injuries. In 12 games, he amassed 42 receptions for 656 yards and five touchdowns.

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