The Cincinnati Bengals shocked the NFL world last season by making the Super Bowl in quarterback Joe Burrow’s second season. The success made it seem like the Bengals are ahead of schedule in the Burrow Era, but the team’s window may be closing quicker than most fans think. The franchise, and historically frugal owner Mike Brown, are going to have to make some difficult financial decisions soon, and that starts with the Tee Higgins contract. The 2023 NFL season is also the last year before Tee Higgins’ free-agent offseason, which could see the wideout get a huge deal with another team.
The Tee Higgins contract
As a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tee Higgins signed a four-year, $8,686,785 contract with a $3,877,664 signing bonus and $5,882,518 guaranteed.
In 2022, the receiver had a $1,399,708 base salary, and with $969,416 in prorated signing bonus, Higgins’ cap hit was $2,369,124. Next season, his base goes up to $1,794,562, and the cap number jumps to $2,763,978.
That’s an incredibly good deal for a player who put up 74 catches for 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns this season. All told, Higgins has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, going for 67/908/6 in his rookie season and 74/1,091/6 in season two.
Higgins’ 3,028 yards in the last three seasons is the 15th-most in the NFL over that span.
And because he wasn’t a first-round pick, the Bengals don’t have the fifth-year option provision in his contract to keep him beyond 2023 without giving him a long-term deal.
This causes a problem for Cincinnati with the extensions they have coming up beyond the Tee Higgins contract.
Will 2024 be Tee Higgins’ free-agent season?
After several years of excellent drafting and shrewd free-agent moves, the Bengals are loaded with young talent. That is a better problem to have than the alternative, but at some point, the Bengals will have to pay all these players.
The summer of 2024 is going to be a big one for the Bengals.
Joe Burrow will be heading into his fifth-year option and will expect a massive extension (if he doesn’t get one this offseason), and Joe Mixon has a $13.1 million team option. Receivers Higgins and Tyler Boyd, offensive tackles Jonah Williams and Hakeem Adeniji, defensive tackle D.J. Reader, linebacker Logan Wilson, and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie will all be free agents.
The year after that, Ja’Marr Chase, Trey Hendrickson, B.J. Hill, and basically the entire O-line will need new deals.
With all that on the horizon, can the Bengals give out a Tee Higgins contract that the WR deserves?
The answer is probably, no.
Outside of the by-then-over-30 Mike Evans, the best WRs on the 2024 free-agent market will be names like Calvin Ridley, Chase Claypool, Robbie Anderson, Gabriel Davis, and Michael Pittman Jr. It’s not outrageous to say that by the end of next season, Higgins could be the best player on this list.
If that’s the case, the next Tee Higgins contract will likely be north of $25 million per season.
With the monster Burrow and Chase deals coming up along with the team needing to re-up defensive players like Wilson and Awuzie, Higgins will seemingly have to go elsewhere if he wants that No. 1 WR money.