Tee Higgins pours cold water on trade rumors fire ahead of draft

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins addressed recent trade rumors as he looks for a long-term extension.
Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages

The Cincinnati Bengals have spent the past three seasons with two of the league's most dynamic weapons flanking the perimeter. The Bengals haven't had a receiving duo this talented since Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson in 2010, but both T.O. and Ochocinco were at the tail end of their careers at the time.

Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins developed into two of the league's best receivers at a young age, and Cincinnati fielded both wide receivers for pennies on the dollar. Their combined salary cap hit last year was approximately $12.3 million, which would have been less than the individual cap hit of 16 wide receivers in 2023, according to Spotrac.

Higgins was set to be a free agent this offseason before receiving the franchise tag designation from Cincinnati. Higgins has reportedly requested a trade after negotiations for a long-term deal stalled.

Tee Higgins expects to play for Cincinnati Bengals in 2024

Higgins was asked during his youth football camp if he anticipates playing for Cincinnati in 2024.

"I do anticipate it," Higgins told reporters. "I've grown a love for Cincinnati that I didn't think I would. [I'm] looking forward to it."

Cincinnati selected Higgins in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and he has been remarkable since he stepped onto the field. In his four seasons, the 25-year-old receiver has recorded 257 receptions for 3,684 yards and 24 touchdowns. Higgins was voted as the most underrated player in the league by an anonymous player survey conducted by The Athletic.

Despite Higgins' production, Chase has been the team's undisputed top wideout since he was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Cincinnati picked up Chase's fifth-year option this offseason, but his record-setting contract extension is still lingering in the near future.

Cincinnati was in position to leverage the financial freedom into a dynastic run, but that window is closing — especially after star quarterback Joe Burrow signed his monster five-year, $275 million deal last year. If the Bengals want to retain both of Burrow's weapons moving forward, it won't come without its consequences.

Chase and Higgins could cost Cincinnati over $50 million per season. Bengals general manager Duke Tobin will have to decide if he wants to tie up that much of the team's cap space in one position group. Along with Burrow's contract, the trio of contracts could account for anywhere between 20 percent to 30 percent of the team's annual salary cap space. With 50 other players to account for, keeping both star wideouts would undoubtedly erode talent across Cincinnati's roster. Their management of Higgins' contract, in conjunction with the contracts of Burrow and Chase, will either be used as a cautionary tale or a blueprint for future up-and-coming team executives.

If the Bengals ultimately decide to trade Higgins, there is no shortage of teams interested in the services of the dynamic star. New England Patriots star linebacker Matthew Judon attempted to recruit Higgins during free agency, and even the Pittsburgh Steelers had "internal discussions" about trading for the wideout despite being a division rival.

Higgins has been the subject of trade rumors since the offseason began. Higgins, who grew up in Tennessee, expressed interest in playing for the Tennessee Titans at Super Bowl LVIII Radio Row in February. Tennessee, his hometown team, became more appealing after former Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan accepted an offer to become the Titans' new head coach.

"It would be good," Higgins said on The Sick Podcast. "Going back home to family and being able to play for a coach I've already been under, it would be ideal."

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