‘I Want Tee Higgins Back’ – Bengals’ Duke Tobin Discusses Free Agent WR at the Senior Bowl

Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin talked about the futures of Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase while at the Senior Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin rarely conducts interviews, but when he talks to reporters at the NFL Combine, he usually delivers at least one quote that gets people buzzing.

Duke Tobin Talks Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase

Last year, it was the “they want a receiver, go find your own” comment when asked about trade rumors involving Tee Higgins. And in 2020, rather than pushing back on countless media members who crushed the Bengals and saying they would ruin Joe Burrow, Tobin simply said, “I’m praying for them.”

Tobin got a jump on his offseason media availability this week at the Senior Bowl, where he talked to Geoff Hobson from the team website and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway, and Higgins was among the first topics discussed.

The 2020 second-round pick is headed toward free agency unless the Bengals use the franchise tag. Asked whether they plan to do so, Tobin went to one of his favorite lines:

“I’m not going to be breaking any news today.”

The window to use the franchise tag opens Feb. 20 and runs through March 5. And all indications are that the Bengals will tag Higgins.

The franchise tag amount for a wide receiver this season is estimated to be around $21 million, all of which would be guaranteed. Even if (when) the Bengals tag Higgins, they still will have until mid-July to negotiate a longer contract.

Here is the rest of what Tobin told Hobson and Conway:

“He was a guy that we drafted for that reason, to be a contributor for us. He’s not under contract now so we’re going to have to work through how to do that and if it’s possible and we’ll have to go through the gymnastics of that. So it’s a different scenario than it was last year.

“Trading a high-level player that’s under contract just because the future might demand it, that’s never really on my mind. We’ll see what happens this year. I want Tee Higgins back. Everyone on our team would like to have Tee Higgins back. Again, there’s one pie, and how big of a slice that takes and what else we can’t do because of it, we’ll have to determine, and we’ll see.”

Bengals quarter Joe Burrow intimated during his news conference the day after the season ended that he and everyone else in the building expect Higgins to be back. Burrow went on to say that plan was something that was discussed when he was negotiating his five-year, $275 million extension last summer.

Whether that was a “we’ll try” or “we’ll see” discussion or if there were some more concrete assurances or concessions made in negotiations designed for that purpose is unclear.

“We made sure things were in place that we could if we needed to,” Burrow said. “He’s a big part of what we have done here. It’s no secret our relationship. I expect Tee to be back. I think that’s the sentiment in the locker room. We all want Tee back. We know what kind of player he is. We know what kind of person he is. He’s what being a Bengal is all about. We’ll see, but I think we should have a good opportunity.”

The Bengals also have a decision to make on wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who is eligible for an extension this offseason.

The window already is open for the team to exercise Chase’s fifth-year option, which is a lock to happen as an insurance plan. The Bengals did it with Burrow last season before coming to terms on his extension.

But finalizing an extension with Chase this offseason is not as much of a sure thing as getting something done with Burrow last year.

MORE: State of the Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers

There is the Higgins matter to tend to first, plus Chase has been open about wanting to wait out Justin Jefferson and let his former college teammate reset the market for receivers so he can top him and reset it again.

“We’ll see,” Tobin said when asked about getting an extension done this offseason. “He’s eligible for one. Sometimes those happen, and sometimes they don’t. It could. We like Ja’Marr. He’s in our long-term plans. He’s shown that he is a high-level player in this league.”

It’s a matter of “when” not “if” when it comes to an extension for Chase.

It’s also a matter of “when” not “if” when it comes to tagging Higgins.

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