Bengals Unlikely To Use Franchise Tag On Tee Higgins In 2025?

Fans who appreciate the value wide receivers provide will be in for a treat during the weeks leading up to training camp, as numerous high-profile wideouts are engaged in contract situations. The Bengals technically have a deadline prior to camp, but nothing this offseason has pointed to it being especially consequential.

Tee Higgins is widely expected to play this season on the franchise tag. He and the Bengals have not negotiated in more than a year, and an offer south of $20MM per year came from the team during those 2023 talks. Although Jessie Bates refrained from signing his tender until barely two weeks remained until Week 1, Higgins took the step to lock in his $21.82MM salary early. As a result, Higgins will be contractually required to attend camp.

This may represent a positive step for the parties’ relationship, but the prospect of it concluding after five seasons remains squarely on the radar. The Bengals letting Higgins play on the tag this year will give them the option to restart negotiations after the season. It will also open the door to a second tag in 2025. That would cost $26.2MM to apply, and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler refers to a re-tag scenario as unlikely to transpire.

Citing a second tag’s cost and the team’s plans for a Ja’Marr Chase extension, Fowler points to a path for Higgins to play out his tag year and reach free agency. Additionally, Fowler notes talks between the parties have been “all but nonexistent” as of late.

The rental route is how the Bengals proceeded with Bates, who shares an agent with Higgins. Bates departed in free agency after receiving a below-market Bengals offer at the July 2022 tag deadline, ultimately scoring by far the biggest deal (four years, $64MM) among free agent safeties 2023. Considering the value gap between wide receivers and safeties, the Bengals receiving nothing for Higgins — beyond a potential 2026 compensatory pick — would sting. But the team does have a monster Chase payment — in all likelihood — to make. Joe Burrow‘s cap number also rises considerably next year, increasing from $29.6MM to $46.3MM.

Only one wide receiver over the past decade has been tagged twice. The Buccaneers cuffed Chris Godwin in 2021 and again in ’22; the parties reached an extension days after the second tag. On the whole, 10 players have been tagged twice since 2014. Godwin, Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, Trumaine Johnson, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Justin Simmons, Brandon Scherff, Leonard Williams, Cam Robinson represent that club. This group collectively went 6-4 in signing extensions with the team that tagged them. Cousins, Bell, Johnson and Scherff departed in free agency.

The Bengals’ history with the franchise tag illustrates they are fine letting a player move on after a rental season. The team has not extended a tag recipient since Mike Nugent in 2013, with Rudi Johnson (2005) and Carl Pickens (1999) the only other players the Bengals have extended after tagging them. The organization has completed one tag-and-trade move — DT Dan Wilkinson in 1998 — though this would seemingly be an avenue to recoup some value for Higgins.

Even with Burrow’s 2025 cap number and Chase’s fifth-year option figure ($21.82MM) accounted for, the Bengals are projected to carry more than $43MM in cap space in 2025. That number will certainly fluctuate over the next several months, but the team could have the option of tagging Higgins. As for the fifth-year wideout, he can elevate his value with a bounce-back season.

Higgins’ 2023 slate featured his own injury trouble and then Burrow’s, ending with a career-low 656 yards. As WR salaries boom, a number of other matters — those involving CeeDee Lamb, Tyreek Hill, Brandon Aiyuk and Amari Cooper — stand to affect the market’s upper reaches. A third 1,000-yard season would put Higgins in strong position come 2025, and the Bengals would face some pressure regarding a second tag.

For now, Cincinnati joins San Francisco in gearing up for another season with its longtime wide receiver duo in the fold. Having reached Super Bowl LVI and pushed the Chiefs to the brink in the ensuing AFC championship game, the Bengals will hope Burrow’s return can reignite their championship quest. Although Higgins may well be a rental and Chase the core piece, the team’s WR2 represents a central component to Cincy’s title hopes this year.

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