Could the Bengals trade Tee Higgins?

Social media is rife with chatter about Higgins’ getting shipped off. It probably won’t happen.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) warms up in a shirt in support of Buffalo...
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) warms up in a shirt in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during pregame before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)(Emilee Chinn | AP)
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 6:46 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - There’s a lot of gossip going around social media about Bengals star wide receiver Tee Higgins getting traded—and “gossip” is probably the best way to describe it.

Here’s how it started: A guy who covers the NFL tweeted on Friday an out-of-context snippet from a paywalled story by The Athletic’s esteemed Bengals writer, Paul Dehner Jr.

That snippet seemed to suggest Dehner had learned, whether from sources close to the team or from the team directly, that the Bengals intend to trade Higgins if offseason talks on a long-term deal fall through because Higgins is asking for an “outrageous” upfront sum.

Except that’s not what Dehner wrote. The story is subjunctive freewheeling nested inside a hypothetical—not “if talks break down, this is what will happen,” but “if talks were to break down, this is what might happen.”

Here is Dehner’s actual conclusion: “The most likely outcome would be Higgins playing out the last year of his rookie contract just as [Bengals safety Jessie] Bates did, but this will be a fluid storyline to track closely from the draft through opening day.”

But folks ran with the initial tweet anyways, and within hours a groupthink consensus developed that a Higgins trade was unavoidable.


Here’s the Higgins situation: He’s super good. He’s also entering the fourth year of his $8.7 million rookie contract. Talks with the Bengals on a new deal could feasibly begin this offseason.

The Bengals have a lot of young players to pay soon, including fellow star wideout Ja’Marr Chase. The team will already be negotiating with quarterback Joe Burrow this offseason, and you wonder at the front office’s willingness (or bandwidth) to do both contracts at the same time. There’s also the possibility a Higgins contract could depend on the outcome of a Burrow contract—whether Burrow would be willing to take a little less to keep Higgins around.

Cincinnati, by the way, has the third-most cap space heading into a 2023 season where the cap will be significantly higher than before.

Higgins’ agent has played hard-ball with the Bengals before, including in representation of Jessie Bates. As with the Bates talks, it’s possible the issue of guaranteed money, which the Bengals have been loathe to deal out, could be a sticking point.

But Higgins is contractually obligated to play for the Bengals in 2023, and they could use the franchise tag on him in 2024 to keep him in Cincinnati.

It’s what happens afterward that likely dictates how the Bengals move forward. If Higgins isn’t in the team’s long-term plans, they’ll need to start figuring out who replaces him.

And the wide-receiver class this year isn’t stellar. If the Bengals had confidence they could replace Higgins’ production with a rookie on a cheap deal (as the Vikings did, trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills and drafting Justin Jefferson) that would be one thing. But there might not be a Justin Jefferson in the 2023 NFL Draft. Or a Tee Higgins.

So, could Tee Higgins get traded? Here’s the thing: The Bengals will always pick up the phone. Every team does.

The issue for other teams is the same issue Cincinnati faces: Tee Higgins is super good. Certainly “WR1″ good. And as gaudy as his stats appear, he’s likely underutilized in the parade-of-riches offense Cincinnati runs out. (Like, can he maybe get some more red zone targets?)

NFL analyst Dan Orlofsky put up the Chicago Bears as a trade partner. But the Bears could give their top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and even that might not be enough. Same with the New York Giants, who need a receiver. In all likelihood, the Bengals’ asking price would be so high, no team in the NFL would want to pay it.

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