Bengals Use Franchise Tag On Tee Higgins

The Bengals have a number of pending free agents to deal with heading into the new league year, but the team has made the decision to cover their bases with wide receiver Tee Higgins by informing him that they will apply the franchise tag to him in 2024, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The team has since announced the move.

If Higgins had been selected one pick earlier in 2020, Cincinnati may have been enjoying the luxury of a fifth-year option right now. Instead, as the first pick of the second round, Higgins’ four-year rookie contract has now come to an end. One of the more consistent producers of the past four years, Higgins was sure to draw a nice deal in free agency.

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The franchise tag numbers were released by the NFL today, informing us that the Bengals move will cost them $21.82MM. The Bengals will now have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, and as Tony Pauline of writes, Cincy is currently trying to do just that. If player and team cannot come to terms by the March 5 deadline for utilizing the franchise tag, the Bengals will hit Higgins with the tag but will continue extension discussions.

As a rookie, Higgins took over in a receiving room that included Tyler Boyd and an aging A.J. Green. He would lead the team in both receiving yards (908) and touchdowns (six). His sophomore season, Higgins watched a rookie Ja’Marr Chase do the same thing he had done his rookie year. Despite improving his yards (1,091) and matching his touchdown total (six) from the previous year in two fewer games, Higgins was outpaced by Chase’s stellar rookie totals. In 2022, the two established themselves one of the premier receiving duos in the league as Higgins once again surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and caught seven touchdowns.

In this season’s contract year, Higgins failed to deliver a fourth straight strong season to really bolster his free agency resume. Still, despite missing five games, Higgins was second on the team with five touchdown receptions and was 11 yards short of finishing second in receiving yards, as well. Had he played the extra five games, he would’ve been on pace to see similar numbers to his rookie year; this all despite the season-ending injury to star quarterback Joe Burrow.

Regardless, the Bengals have had to set their sights on the futures of all three of their top receivers, including veteran Tyler Boyd. Chase still has two years on his rookie deal, including the fifth-year option, but as one of the league’s best young wideouts, Cincinnati should feel early pressure to get him inked to a long-term deal sooner rather than later. Boyd also faces free agency after finishing out his four-year, $43MM extension. The Bengals famously are not fans of doling out third contracts to veterans, but they did break their own rule by extending defensive end Trey Hendrickson last year. It will be interesting to see if Boyd returns or if Cincinnati goes in a younger direction.

While decisions on Chase and Boyd remain, Higgins’ situation becomes a bit less pressing now. As noted above, the Bengals will continue working on an extension to keep Higgins around long-term, but by applying the franchise tag, they’ve laid out a safety net that buys them a bit more time.

For now, this puts Higgins just under the average annual value of players like Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin and just over players like D.J. Moore and Keenan Allen. Cincinnati holds $72.84MM of cap space, after the release of the new salary cap numbers today, good for fifth-most in the league. The Bengals will need every bit of it to navigate some of the contract decisions they’ll have to make moving forward.

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