Bengals officially use franchise tag on WR Tee Higgins

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 31: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) before an NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs on Dec 31, 2023 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Tee Higgins is an elite No. 2 wide receiver for the Bengals. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tee Higgins is coming back to the Cincinnati Bengals, one way or another.

The Bengals announced on Monday that they have designated the standout wide receiver as their franchise player, several days after reportedly informing him of their decision. Instead of letting him test free agency, the Bengals are keeping him in the fold to continue his successful on-field pairing with teammate Ja'Marr Chase. This year, the tag is expected to pay wide receivers a fully guaranteed $21.8 million.

The deadline to use the franchise tag is March 5. Between now and then, the Bengals can still sign Higgins to a long-term extension.

Higgins is coming off the least productive season of his career, mainly due to five games missed with injuries. He posted career lows in catches, receiving yards, touchdowns and targets while catching passes from Joe Burrow and Jake Browning.

Higgins has filled the role of an extremely capable No. 2 wide receiver since the arrival of Ja'Marr Chase, who is entering the fourth season of his rookie deal and will almost certainly have his fifth-year option picked up this offseason.

Chase's looming payday, combined with Burrow's five-year, $275 million contract, might cause the Bengals to hesitate paying Higgins top receiver money, which he could likely get on the free market. Still, the team has $51 million cap space for 2024, per OverTheCap, with only a few significant cap hits in subsequent seasons.