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1,000-Yard Receiver Enters Contract Season Facing Uncertain Future

Cincinnati Bengals franchise quarterback Joe Burrow signed a massive contract extension which could signal the end of the Tee Higgins Era
Tee Higgins

The Cincinnati Bengals recently made Joe Burrow the richest man in football, handing out a well-deserved $275 million extension for one of the best in the game. While Burrow is clearly worth every penny, handing out this much money to a single player means that sacrifices will need to be made on other parts of the roster. Wide receiver Tee Higgins is heading into a contract year, and recent reports suggest that the Bengals will not be able to sign him to an extension.

Good wide receivers are hard to come by in today’s NFL, and Higgins is one of the best in the game. While he’s not as good as fellow Bengal Ja’Marr Chase, we know that the former second-round pick would be the top wide receiver on almost every team in the league. During his rookie season, Higgins recorded 67 receptions for 908 yards and six touchdowns. These are strong numbers for any rookie, but it’s even more impressive when you remember that he did this before Chase entered the NFL and that he was catching passes from rookie Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen, and Ryan Finley.

What the Future Holds For Tee Higgins After Joe Burrow Contract

The fact of the matter is that Higgins is good enough to be a perennial 1,00-yard receiver while splitting targets with Ja’Marr Chase and would likely eclipse those numbers if he wasn’t paired with arguably the best receiver in the game. In today’s pass-happy NFL, there simply aren’t enough good wide receivers to go around, and at least one of the 32 teams out there will be willing to hand out a major payday to the former second-round pick.

According to Spotrac, Higgins’ market value is currently a staggering $22.6 million per year when factoring in age and production compared to similar players. Somebody is going to think Higgins is worth that massive paycheck, but it probably won’t be the Bengals. As mentioned earlier, the team handed out $275 million to Joe Burrow, and they need to save their pennies for when Ja’Marr Chase becomes eligible for his big extension.

However, just because Tee Higgins probably won’t sign an extension with the Bengals doesn’t mean that the team will let him walk for nothing. Any player that is worth over $20 million on the open market is also worth at least one high draft pick, and Cincinnati would be foolish to not take advantage of this. The Bengals are in the midst of their Super Bowl window, so they’re not going to trade Higgins during the season. Once the 2023 campaign concludes, however, they can use the franchise tag to retain his rights and trade him away to a new organization. The only thing left to do is determine which teams are the best fits.

Possible Trade Destinations

Every team in the league would love to have a player like Tee Higgins on their team, but not every team is in a position to acquire him via trade. For one, the Bengals would never trade him to a legitimate AFC contender like the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills, as they don’t want to make their path to a Super Bowl any harder than it needs to be. Secondly, the Bengals also need to find a team with salary cap space and draft picks to burn.

Chicago Bears

Based on these criteria, the most obvious fit is the Chicago Bears. The team improved the wide receiver room with D.J. Moore, but they could still use another young playmaker. If Justin Fields proves himself to be a franchise quarterback in 2023, then the team will want to capitalize on a relatively weak NFC North and go all-in for the 2024 season. The team has plenty of draft picks thanks to their trade with the Carolina Panthers and can afford to hand out picks and a big contract for Higgins.

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints do not believe in rebuilding. Despite losing Drew Brees and Sean Payton in recent years, the team has done its best to remain competitive year after year. Chris Olave is a star in the making, but Michael Thomas is anything but a safe bet to stay on the field. Even if he stays healthy in 2023, there is no guarantee that he ever recaptures his old form. New Orleans has never been shy about trading away picks to get the players they want, and they always find a way to make the money work. If they want Tee Higgins, they will get him.

Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals need help at just about every position. After a miserable 2022, the team is set to enter the 2023 season with Josh Dobbs and fifth-round rookie Clayton Tune leading an offense comprised of Marquise Brown and nobody else of note. It’s safe to assume that they’ll have a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, and they’ll probably use that selection on a quarterback like Caleb Williams. However, they also have another first-round pick from the Houston Texans that they would probably be willing to send to Cincinnati for the rights to Tee Higgins. They could probably get another high pick by trading Kyler Murray to a quarterback-needy team.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, have a desperate need at the wide receiver position. After trading away D.J. Moore, the team is left with just Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall, and Jonathan Mingo on their depth chart. This is not a welcoming environment for Bryce Young, and they need to add some wide receiver talent if they want the first-overall pick to reach his ceiling. The only problem is they might not have the draft capital acquired to actually trade for him. The Panthers gave up their 2024 first-round pick for the right to acquire Young, and they might not want to give up any additional draft capital for Higgins.

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Main Photo: Sam Greene – USA Today Sports


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