CINCINNATI – The Bengals accomplished one of their offseason goals on Tuesday, as they agreed to a four-year, $48 million extension with Joe Mixon.
Signing the 24-year-old to a long-term deal has been their top priority for months. They love everything about Mixon — from his talent on the field, to the energy he brings to the locker room.
"Joe’s been a great player for us. We want him around here," Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin said in July. We know what he is. He came in and earned it. I think he came in under somewhat some tough circumstances and he’s showed everybody that he was the player and the person we believed he is and would become. He’s a guy that we’re proud of."
Signing a running back to a long-term deal isn't always a wise investment. In fact, most teams tend to get burned when they invest significant assets into the running back position.
The Rams, Falcons, Cardinals and Jets are just a few of the examples. Players like David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman underperformed after signing long-term deals.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was in Los Angeles during Gurley's decline. He saw what happened first hand. So why were the Bengals adamant about keeping Mixon long-term?
They believe he's just scratching the surface of his full potential. He doesn't have the injury history of Gurley and didn't miss an entire season because of contract negotiations like Le'Veon Bell.
Mixon has posted back-to-back 1,100-yard rushing seasons, and yet it feels like he could take his game to another level. He's played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league over the past three years. The Bengals are hoping to make significant improvement in the trenches this season, which should bode well for his numbers.
The coaching staff also plans on throwing the ball to Mixon more this season. He has yet to top the 300-yard receiving mark, despite having great hands and agility out of the backfield.
"He’s an all-around, complete back," offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said during training camp. "He can do just about everything you need him to do. Finding ways to get him some touches in the pass game are some of the things we’ve looked at and studied ways to do it better than we did it last year."
The running backs that make a difference in the passing game are usually the only ones that offer enough value to warrant a long-term extension. Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 65.5 receptions over the past two years. Alvin Kamara has finished with 81 receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons.
Mixon has never been targeted more than 55 times in a season. That has to change. The Bengals signed him to a $48 million extension because they know he's a great player.
He was the second-ranked running back on their draft board in 2017. They love his ability, but he's been underutilized in Cincinnati, especially in the passing game.
It's up to the coaching staff to put Joe Burrow in position to throw screen passes and dump-offs to Mixon the same way Drew Brees does with Kamara in New Orleans.
Joe Brady, who was Burrow's offensive coordinator at LSU last season, was on the Saints coaching staff in 2018. He ran a pro-style offense with the Tigers that was similar to what Brees and the Saints are running.
Burrow threw to Clyde Edwards-Helaire early and often last season, which was a big reason why the Chiefs drafted him in the first-round.
The Bengals coaching staff needs to do the same thing with Mixon this season and every year he's on the roster.
This offense has relied on A.J. Green for years and he'll continue to be a big part of the offense, but Mixon should get 70-80 targets this season.
It's up to Taylor, Callahan and the rest of the coaching staff to make they get the most out of their mega-talented running back.
For more on the Bengals, including full details on Mixon's extension, go here!