Cincinnati Bengals Free Agency: Who Are the Best Fits at Wide Receiver?

Tagging Tee Higgins to pair with Ja'Marr Chase will be a great start for the Cincinnati Bengals at receiver, but they could use a veteran in the slot.

CINCINNATI — Tuesday is the first day the Cincinnati Bengals can use the franchise tag on wide receiver Tee Higgins, but while the decision is a foregone conclusion, it doesn’t mean they are going to make it official the first chance they get.

The Bengals tend not to make these types of decisions until they have to. When they tagged A.J. Green in 2020, they did so the day before the deadline. Even though the decision is obvious, waiting the full three weeks gives the two sides time to discuss a contract extension before making the transaction official.

Of course, they can continue to negotiate after triggering the tag. If they don’t reach a deal by July 15, Higgins would have to play 2024 on the tag.

There is a chance, albeit slim, that the Bengals could tag Higgins and trade him. But getting a second-round pick and a Day 3 pick in exchange for not having Higgins is not nearly worth the value of having another season of the receiver in his prime and then getting a third-round comp in 2026 after he walks in free agency in 2025.

Free Agent Wide Receivers the Bengals Could Target

The decision on Higgins shapes the team’s focus on free agency and the draft. Keeping him together with Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow — and the emerging Andrei Iosivas — means any interest in adding to the position group likely would involve finding a veteran slot receiver.

The Bengals drafted Charlie Jones to replace Tyler Boyd, who is a free agent and expected to play elsewhere in 2024. But Jones missed six games after having thumb surgery in late September, and he only played 41 offensive snaps.

Even if the Bengals re-sign Trenton Irwin, they still could have interest in acquiring another inexpensive veteran in the slot.

Let’s look at some possible fits.

Parris Campbell, New York Giants

Coming off a down year in which he caught just 20 passes for 104 yards in 12 games, Campbell has an affordable Spotrac market value of one year, $3.5 million.

But he’s just one season removed from catching 62 passes for 623 yards and three touchdowns, a stat line that is almost identical to what Boyd put up in 2023 (67-667-2).

Campbell, who will be 27 in July, has played 75.6 percent of his snaps in the slot, and he has just seven drops since entering the league in 2019. Only 13 receivers with at least 1,500 offensive snaps have fewer drops than Campbell.

Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs

The owner of three Super Bowl rings after catching the game-winning pass Sunday in overtime against the 49ers, Hardman could be switching teams for the second time in two seasons.

The Jets signed him last March, then traded him back to Kansas City in October. Hardman, who will be 26 next month, played 60 percent of his snaps in the slot last year, which was a career-high. In addition to having the flexibility to move outside, Hardman runs a lot of jet sweeps and does so with much more success (6.1 average) than Cincinnati receivers typically do.

Hardman doesn’t have a market value listed on Spotrac, but he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Jets last year, so you can expect it to be in that range again this offseason.

Brandon Powell, Minnesota Vikings

Since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Powell has been with five teams, which can be a red flag. But newly signed passing game coordinator Justin Rascati was on the staff in Minnesota last year when Powell had a career year with 29 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown.

He also led the league with 37 punt returns, and he will be a low-risk, high-reward type of signing with a Spotrac market value of just one year, $1.2 million.

Braxton Berrios, Miami Dolphins

In addition to covering their bases, if Jones isn’t ready to be an every-down slot receiver, the Bengals also would have a backup plan if he is by signing Berrios.

If Jones plays a heavy role in the offense, Darrin Simmons will be looking for someone else to return punts, and Berrios finished 10th in the league last year with a 10.2 average. Berrios also ranked 10th in kick returns, a position that remains wide open on the Cincinnati roster.

MORE: Best Free Agent RB Fits for Bengals

Berrios spent his first four seasons with the Jets before signing a one-year, $4 million deal with the Dolphins last March, catching 27 passes on just 33 targets for 238 yards. Spotrac has his market value much lower this season at one year, $1.6 million.

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