Bengals, Tee Higgins Trade Standoff Continues With Unsigned Franchise Tag

The situation between Higgins and the Bengals doesn't seem set to be resolved anytime soon.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) reacts after completing a catch in the fourth quarter during a Week 9 NFL football game
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) reacts after completing a catch in the fourth quarter during a Week 9 NFL football game / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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Heading into the 2024 offseason, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins made it clear he either wanted a new contract or a trade after playing out the final season of his rookie deal in 2023. So far, the Bengals have refused to grant either request and instead slapped the franchise tag on the former second-round pick. Thus began a stand-off between player and team— one that appears set to continue unabated.

On Tuesday, the team held the first mandatory minicamp of the summer. Higgins was not present, following the standard he set by refusing to attend OTAs earlier in the offseason. What's more, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports Higgins still has not signed his franchise tag. The insider also noted that Higgins is not subject to fines at this time.

What does it all mean? Until Higgins signs the franchise tag, he is technically not under contract with the Bengals. However, he is also not permitted to negotiate with other teams on a new contract. Higgins is essentially in limbo. And if the Bengals do not trade him, eventually he'll have to choose between signing the tag and playing next year on a one-year deal or try to force Cincinnati's hand by refusing to play.

That last strategy doesn't have a history of success but the relationship between team and player in this instance doesn't seem great. Higgins has been open about his desire for a new deal since before the 2023 season but the Bengals reportedly were not interested in dealing at any point. This, obviously, did not make Higgins very happy, leading to a demand for a trade. Cincy's response was the tag. Thus, the two sides reached an impasse.

At this stage in the offseason the most likely outcome is Higgins signing the franchise tag, which secures him a guaranteed $21.8 million deal to play in 2024. He gets a good chunk of change and all but ensures that he'll be a free agent in 2025; it would be prohibitively expensive for the Bengals to tag him two years in a row, especially since Ja'Marr Chase is up for a massive new deal of his own next year. Higgins also said himself earlier this offseason that he does anticipate playing in Cincy next year.

Until he puts pen to paper, though, it'll be an uncomfortable point of contention throughout the Bengals' offseason programs. Starting today.


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Liam McKeone

LIAM MCKEONE

Liam McKeone is a Senior Writer for the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. In addition to his role as a writer, he collaborates with other teams across Minute Media to help define his team’s content strategy. He has been in the industry as a content creator since 2017, and prior to joining SI in 2024, Liam worked for NBC Sports Boston and The Big Lead. In addition to his work as a writer, he has hosted the Press Pass Podcast covering sports media and The Big Stream covering pop culture. A graduate of Fordham University, Liam is always up for a good debate and enjoys loudly arguing about sports, rap music, books, and video games. Liam has been a member of the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) since 2020.