Will Tee Higgins Stay in Cincinnati? Several Bengals on PFN’s Top 100 Free Agent List

Most of the Cincinnati Bengals who appear on the PFN Top 100 Free Agents list are going to be getting bigger contracts to play elsewhere in 2024.

CINCINNATI — It seems as though the 2023 season just ended, and here we stand four weeks away from the start of the new league year — and the NFL’s version of Supermarket Sweep, i.e. free agency — on March 13.

Some of the biggest questions facing the Cincinnati Bengals already have been answered, minus the signatures.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins is staying. And right tackle Jonah Williams is leaving.

But there are other issues left to be resolved, and the Bengals do not own team control over them the way they do with Higgins via the franchise tag.

With five players on PFN’s Top 100 list of 2024 free agents, the Bengals will see a lot more talent than just Williams walking out the door despite the window for winning a Super Bowl being as open as it ever has been.

Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents

Tee Higgins, WR

  • Overall Ranking: 5
  • Positional Ranking: 1
  • 2023 Stats: 12 games (11 starts), 42 receptions, 656 yards, five touchdowns.
  • Spotrac Market Valuation: Four years, $74.4 million ($18.6 million AAV)
  • Dallas Robinson’s Take: While Higgins could be a WR1 on myriad rosters, he’ll always sit behind Ja’Marr Chase in Cincinnati. With a mega-extension for Chase on the horizon, the Bengals will likely franchise tag Higgins for $21.67 million while gearing up for another run at the Super Bowl. Injuries limited Higgins to 12 games and 656 receiving yards in 2023, but he’d gone over 1,000 yards in each of the previous two seasons.
  • Jay Morrison’s Take: The Bengals have a two-week window that begins next Tuesday to use the franchise tag, and the odds of them doing so are in the range of the sun rising tomorrow. The Bengals are $59 million under the cap, and Joe Burrow said the day after the season ended that everyone expects Higgins back and that keeping him, at least for 2024, was part of the negotiations toward his $275 extension, which officially doesn’t kick in until 2025 when his fifth-year option salary of $29 million in 2024 balloons to $46 million. What director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine holds true today for teams thinking they can have Higgins on their roster: “They want a receiver? Go find your own.”

Jonah Williams, OT

  • Overall Ranking: 15
  • Positional Ranking: 2
  • 2023 Stats: 17 games (17 starts), eight sacks allowed, 41 pressures allowed
  • Spotrac Market Valuation: Four years, $43.4 million ($10.8 million AAV)
  • Robinson’s Take: Williams has never been a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro, but he’s a former first-round pick who can play as a reliable left or right tackle. Since missing his rookie year and six games of the 2020 campaign, Williams has played every offensive snap for the Bengals. That sort of option is rarely available on the free agent market, and Williams might be targeting $15 million per year.

MORE: A Potential Replacement for Jonah Williams Has Already Emerged for the Cincinnati Bengals

  • Morrison’s Take: Williams did everything right in 2023, from accepting the position change to playing as well as he ever has, and he’s going to be rewarded for it with the biggest paycheck he’s ever seen. But Mike Brown won’t be signing it. The day after the season ended, Williams insisted it was too early for him to be thinking about his future, but he spent a lot of time talking about his Bengals career in the past tense. Don’t be surprised if he follows Brian Callahan to Tennessee, where the Titans have the cash to spend, a line in desperate need of an upgrade, and arguably the best offensive line coach in the game in Bill Callahan.

DJ Reader, DT

  • Overall Ranking: 27
  • Positional Ranking: 5
  • 2023 Stats: 14 games (14 starts), 34 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery
  • Spotrac Market Valuation: Three years, $44.8 million ($14.9 million AAV)
  • Robinson’s Take: Reader might’ve been searching for $15 million annually had he not suffered a torn quad tendon in December. Now, he might have to settle for a one-year, prove-it contract. Reader remains arguably the best run-clogging nose tackle in the league, while he showed more flashes as a pass rusher and pocket pusher before going down in 2023.
  • Morrison’s Take: Had Reader finished the season healthy, there is little chance he would be back in 2024. But while the quad injury was the worst possible thing that could have happened just before the 29-year-old Reader took one more swing at a huge payday, it could be a blessing in disguise for his teammates, coaches, and Bengals fans. By the time Reader is expected to be healthy, teams will be bumping up against the salary cap and reporting to camp. If all offers are close to equal, look for Reader to return to the locker room where he was a respected leader from the day he walked in.

Chidobe Awuzie, CB

  • Overall Ranking: 47
  • Positional Ranking: 4
  • 2023 Stats: 15 games (10 starts), 57 tackles, six passes defensed, one forced fumble
  • Robinson’s Take: Awuzie more than delivered on his three-year contract with the Bengals, even if his 2022 ACL injury slowed him down over the next two seasons. He’s no longer the CB1 he was in 2021, but Awuzie is still on the right side of 30. A short-term deal might be his only option, but Awuzie can still play. However, a return to Cincinnati appears unlikely, given how many Day 1 and 2 picks the Bengals have used on fellow cornerbacks.
  • Morrison’s Take: One of the best success stories in Bengals free agent history, Awuzie outplayed his contract and was a respected presence in the locker room. The ACL injury on Halloween in 2022 was a brutal blow, coming just as he was playing the best football of his career. The fact that the Bengals leaned on rookie DJ Turner II as much as they did even after Awuzie was cleared to return was a glimpse into the future. Awuzie has a lot of good football left in him, but it won’t be in Cincinnati with all the young secondary talent the team has acquired in the first three rounds of the last two years.

Tyler Boyd, WR

  • Overall Ranking: 71
  • Positional Ranking: 10
  • 2023 Stats: 17 games (13 starts), 67 receptions, 667 yards, two touchdowns
  • Spotrac Market Valuation: Three years, $26.1 million ($8.7 million AAV)
  • Robinson’s Take: Boyd probably won’t re-sign with the Bengals, who will likely franchise-tag Higgins and may also extend Chase in the coming months. Cincinnati’s top wideout from 2018 to 2019, Boyd’s role has been diminished as the Bengals have added more talent around him. Following ex-Bengals offensive coordinator Callahan to the Titans wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

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  • Morrison’s Take: That Spotrac Market Valuation feels as though it is way off for a 29-year-old slot receiver. Even if the going rate is half of that, Boyd will be on the move. But if the market completely dries up, you can’t entirely rule out a return for one more crack at playing with Chase and Higgins while chasing a ring. Boyd deserves a ton of credit not just for his production on the field since 2016 but for installing the culture in the wide receiver room that has made Chase and Higgins the antithesis of divas. It would be great to see him stick around, but it’s highly unlikely.

Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls!

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