Higgins said the plan for him is to play Monday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars after missing the past three games with the injury. The fourth-year player is in the final year of his rookie contract and dismissed the notion that his long-term outlook is playing a role in returning to the field.
"My health is way more important than any other [thing], you know what I'm saying?" Higgins said Thursday. "My thing was I want to get healthy so I can be 100 percent to go out there and play at 100 percent to help my team come out with a W."
Thursday was the first time Higgins spoke since he suffered a hamstring injury in practice on Nov. 8. Higgins said that the issue flared up when he went out for a deep ball during practice and overstrided. When it occurred, he didn't anticipate it becoming a serious issue.
"I thought it could have been a little strain or something like that," Higgins said. "But obviously, [we] went in and got the pictures and it was a little worse than we thought."
Higgins said he feels like he's back at 100 percent but doesn't want to push himself too soon and have a setback with the injury. The former second-round pick out of Clemson has dealt with hamstring injuries at various points of his career and said this was among the most severe ones he has suffered. He compared it a hamstring injury he suffered in the 2020 finale as a rookie.
The Bengals and Higgins did not come to terms on a long-term deal before the start of the season. Cincinnati reached deals with other top picks in Higgins' draft class, quarterback Joe Burrow (first round, first overall) and linebacker Logan Wilson (third round).
In his first three seasons, Higgins totaled 3,028 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. In seven games this year, Higgins has 328 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns and a career-low catch rate of 52.9% of his targets, per ESPN Stats & Information data.
Before the injury, he appeared to bounce back from a slow start to the season. In his last healthy game, he had eight catches on nine targets for 110 yards in a 24-18 win over the Buffalo Bills. Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning, who is starting after Burrow suffered a season-ending wrist injury, said Higgins' size and experience make him and teammate Ja'Marr Chase an imposing tandem as outside wide receivers.
"Tee's one of the top receivers in the NFL," Browning said Thursday. "I don't think you can really put it into words how important he is to this offense."
Cincinnati (5-6) is looking to snap a three-game losing streak and maintain a glimmer of hope of reaching the postseason for the third straight year. The Bengals will need to beat the AFC South-leading Jaguars (8-3), which are led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Higgins' teammate at Clemson.
Higgins said he hasn't heard of any outside speculation about him potentially sitting out games in the absence of a long-term contract but is aware that those conversations are occurring. However, Higgins said his health outweighs the opinions others have of him.
"My only thing is I always want to help this team," Higgins said. "I'm glad I'm here and I'm glad I'm healthy."