Will Bengals Still Draft WR With Tee Higgins Returning?

Tee Higgins

Getty Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins.

The presumed return of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins in 2024 opens up a world of possibilities for the franchise in the 2024 NFL draft.

That doesn’t mean the Bengals won’t still try to find Higgins’ replacement during the draft, which takes place from April 25-27 in Detroit.

Higgins had the one-year franchise tag placed on him by the Bengals in February. He initially requested a trade but speaking with reporters at a football camp in Loveland, Ohio, on Sunday, Higgins indicated for the first time he expects to play for the team in 2024 in a video posted by WLWT’s Charlie Clifford to X.

“We’ll see. I do anticipate it,” Higgins said. “I’ve grown a love for Cincy that I didn’t think I would. But, I’m looking forward to it.”

The franchise tag would pay Higgins $21.8 million in 2024 and allow him to leave the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2024 — meaning finding his replacement now could be a huge benefit.

Tee Higgins’ Productivity Dropped Drastically in 2023

After three seasons as one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers, Higgins saw his productivity drop off drastically in 2023.

Higgins averaged just more than 1,000 receiving yards per season through his three years in the NFL — a stretch in which the Bengals won an AFC championship in 2021 and played in the AFC Championship Game in 2022.

In 2023, Higgins had career lows of 42 receptions, 650 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He also struggled with injuries for the first time, missing five games with rib and hamstring injuries.

Higgins wasn’t the only one on the Bengals to struggle with injuries — $275 million quarterback Joe Burrow missed the last seven games of the season with season-ending wrist surgery.

Still, with Burrow presumably back to full health in 2024, the Bengals believe that having Higgins in the fold gives them the best chance at winning a Super Bowl.

“It’s really simple: He’s a good player, we want to keep him, and we have resources to do that, so we decided early to do it,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 28. “And that’s where we are. We like Tee. We’re a better team with Tee. With the way we managed our cap, we had the ability to put the franchise tag on him, and we did.”

Bengals Still Have Questions at Wide Receiver

The Bengals still have questions at wide receiver, with the priority being to sign three-time Pro Bowler and 2021 NFL All-Pro Ja’Marr Chase — Burrow’s college teammate at LSU — to a long-term contract extension.

With Higgins likely gone after this season, that means a wide receiver could still be in play in the 2024 NFL draft. Will Brinson of CBS Sports has the Bengals taking Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell at No. 18 overall in his latest mock draft.

Mitchell, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. He was a key piece for Georgia on back-to-back CFP national championship teams in 2021 and 2022 before transferring to Texas, where he was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2023 with 55 receptions for 845 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Longhorns made the CFP semifinals for the first time.

“Offensive line could be a priority,” Brinson wrote, “but with Tee Higgins set to leave after a tag year the Bengals could certainly end up going receiver here.”

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