Joe Burrow wants Tee Higgins back: 'What being a Bengal is all about'

CINCINNATI -- Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow made his intentions clear for one of Cincinnati's top free agents this offseason.

In his first news conference since going on injured reserve in November, Burrow offered emphatic support for wide receiver Tee Higgins to return in 2024.

Higgins, a fellow member of Burrow's 2020 draft class, is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

"It's no secret, our relationship," Burrow said. "I expect Tee to be back. I think that's the sentiment in the locker room. We all want Tee back.

"We know what kind of player he is. We know what kind of person he is. He's what being a Bengal is all about."

Higgins missed Sunday's win over the Cleveland Browns because of a left hamstring injury he sustained in a Week 17 loss to Kansas City that eliminated Cincinnati from postseason contention. The fourth-year player out of Clemson battled injuries to his hamstring and ribs throughout 2023. In 12 games, he recorded 42 catches for 656 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Higgins did not speak to reporters leading up to the season finale against the Browns and declined to comment Monday as players cleaned out their lockers.

Cincinnati will have to make contract decisions on all three starting receivers. Veteran Tyler Boyd is at the end of the contract he signed in 2019. Ja'Marr Chase, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three NFL seasons, is eligible for an extension.

Higgins could also receive a new deal. The window for the Bengals to potentially give Higgins the franchise tag runs from Feb. 20 to March 5. OverTheCap.com currently projects the franchise tag for wide receivers to cost $21.7 million for the one-year deal.

On Monday, Burrow again confirmed that when he signed his five-year contract extension worth $275 million last summer, he negotiated the deal with the team's 2024 decisions in mind.

"We made sure things were in place that we could [be flexible] if we needed to," Burrow said.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said that conversations about contract decisions will continue to occur and evolve over the next couple of months. With that caveat, however, Taylor did offer his support for one of the team's top playmakers.

"It's hard to imagine life without Tee Higgins," Taylor said.