Bengals franchise tag Tee Higgins, first of NFL free agency window: Sources

The Cincinnati Bengals applied their franchise tag to wide receiver Tee Higgins, league sources said, making it the first NFL franchise tag placement of the 2024 offseason.

NFL Network first reported the news. The outlet also reported last week that Higgins will make around $21.8 million next season on the new deal.

Higgins, 25, finished with 42 receptions for 656 yards and five touchdowns over an injury-shortened 12 games last season. He’s surpassed 1,000 receiving yards twice (2021, 2022) since the Bengals drafted him with the 33rd pick of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Over his four seasons in Cincinnati, Higgins has struggled with nagging injuries. He has played in 58 of a possible 66 games in his career, but with a handful of in-game injuries and limited participation, he has never posted a regular season with more than 805 offensive snaps. That came in his rookie season.

The Bengals have used the franchise tag twice in the last four offseasons, tagging Jessie Bates III in 2022 at $12.9 million and A.J. Green in 2020 at $18.2 million. Before that, their last usage was in 2013 with defensive end Michael Johnson.


What is an NFL franchise tag? History of unique deal

Why this isn’t surprising

This plan has been abundantly clear for months. From the moment Joe Burrow stated “I expect Tee back” in his postseason press conference to the clarity from league sources since then, expectations have long been that the franchise tag would be used on Higgins.

Higgins is too good of a player, too important to their offense and they are too close to winning the team’s first championship to just let him walk. That was never going to happen. — Paul Dehner Jr., Bengals beat writer

Is anything about the move surprising?

The timing is what stands out here. Clubs just received the franchise tag values on Friday afternoon, when it was first reported the Bengals would franchise tag Higgins. The massive spike in the cap raised Higgins’ value to $21.8 million. So, essentially, they turned it in the moment they knew the amount to turn in. This rarely happens with players who end up tagged.

Typically, negotiations go up until the deadline day (March 5th) trying to hammer out a long-term deal before resorting to the tag. This confirms the Bengals haven’t ever viewed a long-term contract with Higgins as realistic given the contracts of Burrow and future extension with Ja’Marr Chase.

Interestingly, as one league source mentioned to me for my four-part series on the path ahead, the early tag could also be placed as a message to other teams that if they are interested in a tag-and-trade for Higgins, bring those offers over. If the Bengals went that route, they would prefer a deal complete before free agency opens. Given the complexity of that path (trading team agrees to extension with Higgins, agree on trade compensation, etc.) there are benefits in adding more time for that option to develop.

The most likely scenario is still Higgins plays out this year on the tag with the Bengals, but the timing opens the door further for a tag-and-trade. — Dehner



The Tee Higgins-Bengals crossroads, Part 4: Nothing wrong with one more ride

Required reading

(Photo: Katie Stratman / USA Today)

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