Who is the most important player to extend other than Joe Burrow?

Who is the most important player to extend other than Joe Burrow?

There are 25 players on the Cincinnati Bengals roster heading into training camp this summer whose contracts will expire at the end of the 2023 season. Some of these players won’t make the final 53-man roster and aren’t worth even mentioning here.

There are several players whose contracts expire at the end of the coming season, though, who play integral parts in the Bengals making another Super Bowl run in 2023 and could potentially play a larger role beyond the coming season if they have their contracts are extended this summer, or they are re-signed before the 2024 season.

Obviously, the top name on the list is quarterback Joe Burrow.

The Bengals will extend Burrow this summer: we know that. The only thing we don’t know is how many kidneys the Bengals will need to sell on the black market to pay his salary for the next few years.

There have been other names mentioned, but let’s take a look at who the Bengals could extend after they strike a deal with their quarterback.

Tee Higgins, WR, 24 years old

Higgins has proven over the last two seasons that he’s not only a great WR2 to compliment Ja’Marr Chase, the team’s WR1, but he’s a true WR1 himself. Higgins has 3,028 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in his three years with the Bengals, and, most importantly, he stepped up when Chase was injured and missed a few games in November of the 2022 season. Against the Steelers, Higgins had 148 receiving yards, and then the very next week, he had 114 yards receiving and a touchdown against the Titans while Chase was sidelined. Keeping Higgins on the roster has to be a priority for the Bengals.

Expected extension terms: four years, $97 million, $32.25 guaranteed

Logan Wilson, LB, 26 years old

Wilson, selected in the third round of the 2020 draft, is also up for an extension. He has been one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and has been one of the main reasons defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s defensive game plan has been able to transfer to the field. In his three seasons, he has 256 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, 11 pass deflections, and seven interceptions. To say he’s one of the leaders of the Bengals’ defense is an understatement.

Expected extension terms: three years, $34.5 million, $14 million guaranteed

DJ Reader, DT, 28 years old (29 on July 1)

Reader was among the first of the big-name free agents brought to Cincinnati under Zac Taylor’s new coaching regime. After only playing in five games in his first season with the Bengals in 2020 due to a quad injury, he has been an absolute force on the interior of the team’s defensive line. The Bengals have been in the top 10 in the league against the run over the past two seasons, and Reader is one of the main reasons. He absolutely shut down Derrick Henry in the 2021 divisional playoff game against the Titans. Reader is a little older than most of the other guys listed, but the difference is there is nobody worth mentioning on the depth chart behind him.

Expected extension terms: Three years, $48 million

Tyler Boyd, WR, 28 years old

Boyd is the only wide receiver on the Bengals team that was around to catch passes from Andy Dalton. He was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft out of Pitt and has caught 446 passes for 5.333 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career. He rounds out the best wide receiver corps in the league with Higgins and Chase and is one of the best slot receivers in the NFL. The Bengals selected Charlie Jones (Chuck Sizzle) in the fourth round of the 2023 draft, and he likely takes over the slot duties in 2024 and beyond. If this is the last season for Boyd in Cincinnati, I hope it’s one that we remember forever.

Expected extension terms: Three years, $45.746 million

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, 28 years old

Awuzie was brought in from the Dallas Cowboys on a three-year deal that began in 2021, meaning he’s entering the last year of his contract with the Bengals. In his two seasons, he’s earned a PFF coverage grade of 74.5 (2021) and 73.1 (2022 in eight games). The Bengals see cornerback as a premium position, and Awuzie has been great for the secondary since he was signed. He’s coming off a season-ending injury suffered against the Browns last season, and the Bengals used their second-round pick on Michigan cornerback DJ Burner Turner. It’s likely Awuzie will be elsewhere in 2024.

Expected extension terms: NA

Jonah Williams, OT, 25 years old

The only other player worthy of making the list is Williams, but his chances of being extended this offseason are practically zero. It’s clear his trade request will not be honored by the Bengals, as he’s set to compete for the starting right tackle position. He’ll play out the coming season and then hit free agency.

Expected extension terms: NA

It’s possible that only Burrow will receive an extension, and the Bengals will move forward in 2024 with maybe one player on the above list that they use the franchise tag on. In order of importance, how do we quantify what each of the above players brings to the Bengals?

Higgins is a top-tier wide receiver, and keeping him on the roster forces team’s to choose between doubling Chase or Higgins, meaning someone will be open. Keeping weapons that Burrow is familiar with for the next few years will be a huge part of the offense’s potency. However, wide receivers are more replaceable than some others, and the second contract on top wide receivers is typically very expensive. If the Bengals extend both Burrow and Higgins, they may be tapped out for everyone else, including a potential extension for Chase after the 2023 season.

Reader is one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL, but he’s also going to be 29 years old before the 2023 season begins and will be on the wrong side of 30 once his contract is up. However, a defensive tackle like Reader doesn’t come around very often. We saw that in this year’s draft class. The defensive tackle class wasn’t very deep, and by the time the Bengals went on the clock, there weren’t any worthy of the No. 28 overall pick to be had. Because of his age, he may be a little less expensive to keep around as well.

Wilson is one of the premier linebackers in the league, especially in coverage, but, like running back, the linebacker position has been devalued lately. Keeping Wilson at the right price would be huge, but there are other teams out there who will overpay for a linebacker of Wilson’s caliber, and if the Bengals let him hit the market, he’ll likely be gone. Again, though, if they extend Wilson, there’s probably no chance they can extend Higgins too.

Both Awuzie and Boyd have an heir apparent on the roster in Turner and Jones, so their chances of getting extended beyond this season are very slim. Williams won’t get an extension, either.

So how do you rank them? Which player makes the top of your list?

For me it’s:

  1. Burrow, obviously
  2. Reader
  3. Higgins
  4. Wilson

How about you?

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