Bengals Expected To Ask Joe Mixon To Take Pay Cut

The Bengals figure to be on the radar for a notable running back investment in this year’s draft. Cincinnati’s longest-tenured starting back since Corey Dillon has long been on shaky ground to return for a seventh season.

It appears Joe Mixon will soon face a decision: take a pay cut or be cut. The Bengals are expected to ask the six-year starter to accept a pay reduction soon, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Signed through 2024, Mixon is attached to base salaries of $9.4MM (2023) and $9.7MM (’24). Bengals executive VP Katie Blackburn stopped well short of guaranteeing Mixon would be back when asked in March.

Mixon sits in a similar situation to Dalvin Cook, whom the Vikings are not guaranteed to keep. Both players signed extensions just before the 2020 season, with Cook’s deal ($12.6MM per year) coming in just north of Mixon’s ($12MM AAV). While Cook signed a five-year Vikes re-up, Mixon inked a four-year deal to be the Bengals’ long-term back. Cook is coming off a better year than Mixon, who averaged 3.9 yards per carry and finished with 814 on the ground in 14 games. Pro Football Focus ranked Mixon 57th out of 62 qualified backs in elusiveness last season.

This year’s running back market showed the grim reality Cook and Mixon could soon face. Being released at this juncture of the offseason generally leads to a pay reduction on the market, as teams spend much of their offseason funds early in free agency. Mixon and Cook being running backs stands to place a low cap on their value, especially in the event they become midyear free agents.

No back who signed a free agent contract in March cracked the top 10 in earnings at the position. Even as the cap rises, backs’ replaceability has led to the position’s top salary (Christian McCaffrey‘s $16MM-per-year deal) going unchanged over the past three years. McCaffrey signed his Panthers extension in April 2020.

Developments on this year’s market could lead to Cincinnati asking Mixon to take a substantial pay cut, as the former second-round pick has also run into another off-field issue. Mixon, 26, is facing a misdemeanor aggravated menacing charge stemming from a traffic incident ahead of the Bengals’ trip to Buffalo in January. The Bengals took a chance on the Oklahoma alum’s upside, drafting him despite the Sooners having once suspended him for breaking four bones in a woman’s face during a 2014 assault at a restaurant. More off-field trouble will not help Mixon’s cause, as a suspension could be in the cards for the veteran.

Mixon is one year removed from his best season, when he helped the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI by amassing career-high totals in scrimmage yards (1,509) and touchdowns (16). The Bengals also lost multiyear backup Samaje Perine in free agency. Cincinnati offered Perine a similar deal to the one he signed in Denver (two years, $7.5MM), but Mixon’s former Oklahoma teammate opted for a potentially bigger role — on a team with Javonte Williams rehabbing an ACL tear — rather than return. Perine’s defection complicates the Bengals’ backfield situation, though the team can augment it by drafting a running back early. The Bengals have taken second-round backs three times since 2013 (Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard); Dillon was also a second-rounder back in 1997.

Should the Bengals designate Mixon as a post-June 1 cut, it would save them $10.1MM. For a team planning extensions, that is an appealing number. The Bengals have Joe Burrow and linebacker Logan Wilson on their extension radar, and the team shut down Tee Higgins trade talk ahead of his contract year. Higgins is interested in a Bengals extension, but Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase‘s statuses complicate his long-term Cincy stay.

On that front, neither Higgins nor Wilson reported for the start of the Bengals’ offseason program Monday. They joined disgruntled tackle Jonah Williams in not showing for the start of voluntary workouts, per Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who adds Wilson is seeking an extension. Following the Bengals’ signing of Orlando Brown Jr. — a deal contingent upon the ex-Ravens and Chiefs blocker playing left tackle — Williams requested a trade. Modest interest has emerged; the Bengals will aim to keep the former first-round pick, who joins Higgins and Wilson in heading into a contract year. It is not uncommon for higher-profile players to skip part or all of offseason workouts, but the Bengals’ contract situation will obviously be one to monitor — especially now that Jalen Hurts raised the QB salary ceiling earlier today.

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