The Bengals attacked free agency this offseason by committing nearly $150 million to eight veteran players.
They also drafted Joe Burrow and six other rookies that are expected to contribute right away.
Their goal was to turn around a roster that went 2-14 in 2019. They've had four straight losing seasons since posting a 12-4 record in 2015.
The Bengals believe they're heading in the right direction. Now that free agency and the draft is over, their focus has shifted toward their own players.
They want to sign a few of their guys to long-term contracts. Joe Mixon is likely at the top of their list.
The fourth-year running back has topped the 1,000-yard rushing yard mark in back-to-back seasons. He was ninth in the NFL last season with 1,137 yards and led the AFC in rushing in 2018 (1,168 yards).
"Joe's obviously a guy that's shown a lot of ability," Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin said on the 700 WLW last week. "He is a guy that we have visited with. We'll go through those discussions and see if there's a fit or a match for a long-term contract with him. [He's] Obviously a guy that we value quite a bit.
"The great thing about Joe is he goes about it the right way. He's enthusiastic. He prepares hard and he plays hard. He's the type of guy you want to lock up to a long-term deal and we'll see if we can find the commonality to get that done over time here."
According to sources, the Bengals and Mixon haven't gotten close to a deal yet, but they still have plenty of time between now and the regular season to get something done.
Cincinnati will have an estimated $16.5 million in cap space after they sign rookies. That gives them plenty of flexibility to pursue an extension with Mixon.
It's unclear if he has participated in the Bengals' voluntary virtual meetings that have taken place over the past few weeks.
A deal will take some flexibility from both parties. Mixon saw the four-year, $64 million extension Christian McCaffrey received this offseason. He has to understand that the Bengals aren't going to come close to $16 million per season. Mixon is considered a great talent, but he hasn't posted elite numbers in his first three years in the NFL.
The Bengals' front office should look at a Mixon extension as an investment. He's 23-years-old, hasn't had any major injuries and is as talented as any running back in the league. There are reasons why he hasn't posted huge numbers in his first three seasons.
Mixon has played behind an awful offensive line and has dealt with inconsistent quarterback play. The Bengals' coaching staff hasn't maximized his potential.
If they did extend him, they would be paying for his potential. He has the talent to carry this offense. His presence would make life easier on Burrow. It would be an investment for future production, not paying him for what he's done in the past, which is how contracts should work.
If he reaches his full potential then an extension could ultimately be a bargain. If he posts similar numbers to what he's had over the past few seasons, then the Bengals would be overpaying for above average, but not elite, running back production.
Mixon all of the traits to be a top back in the NFL. He has good size at 6-1, 220 pounds. He has elite quickness and speed, plus he has great hands and has improved in pass protection.
The Bengals need to get him involved in the passing game more this season, regardless of an extension. That's part of his game that has never been fully utilized in the NFL.
Are the Bengals willing to make Mixon one of the highest-paid running backs in the league?
It's going to take patience and a lot of negotiating to agree to a long-term extension, but it's possible.
A four-year, $40 million deal feels like a perfect number for both the Bengals and Mixon.
That would make him the sixth-highest paid running back in the NFL. Mixon would be able to test free agency again at age 28, which could give him a chance to cash in one more time.
An extension would ensure that Burrow has a core around him that includes Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Jonah Williams and Mixon. That's reassuring, especially since A.J. Green's future in Cincinnati is unknown. He's also entering the final year of his contract.
It would be a reasonable number for the Bengals, especially with Burrow on his rookie deal. They would be wise to get an extension like this completed before the Titans sign Derrick Henry to a long-term contract.
The running back market is in a weird place. There are people that believe in moving on from them before they reach their second contract.
Mixon is a unique talent. He's worth keeping around, assuming his contract demands are reasonable.
He isn't worth $15 million per year like Ezekiel Elliott or McCaffrey, but the Bengals should be interested in keeping him around for the foreseeable future.
A four-year, $40 million extension could be the perfect number for Mixon and the Bengals.