Cincinnati Bengals plan to issue ultimatum to All-Pro RB

Bengals plan to issue ultimatum to All-Pro RB
from Pro Football Rumors, with Sam Robinson, and from

Shortly after the draft, fifth-year Bengals HC Zac Taylor indicated Joe Mixon‘s future is “here with the team.” The Bengals have employed Mixon as their starting back since his 2017 rookie season, and Samaje Perine declined their offer before signing with the Broncos.

But the prospect of a Mixon pay cut surfaced before Taylor’s comments. Despite the coach’s endorsement, the team is still planning on a Mixon pay reduction, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic notes.

Although Mixon and Dalvin Cook were each part of a deep 2017 running back class, the former is a year younger. Mixon will turn 27 in July. But the Bengals are following the Vikings and Packers leads in aiming to adjust their seventh-year starter’s extension. Mixon and Cook signed their respective re-ups just before the 2020 season, with the Packers matching the Bengals’ Mixon AAV for Aaron Jones ($12M). Cook’s is no longer an active contract, while Jones accepted a trim in exchange for more 2023 guarantees. Mixon’s deal calls for a $9.4M 2023 base salary and a $12.8M cap hit.

The Bengals remain ready to give Mixon, whose $12M-per-year deal runs through 2024, a late-offseason ultimatum. Mixon refusing the reduction will likely lead to a release and the team searching for outside help, Dehner adds.

While this is certainly not an optimal time for Mixon to be forced into a salary trim, his 2023 status has been a talking point since the Combine. The Bengals, however, have the most significant contract in franchise history to hammer out before clarity emerges. Joe Burrow and the team have been in talks on what will almost certainly be a record-setting extension since late March. Burrow’s re-up will change Cincinnati’s blueprint, and it may well affect how the team navigates its receiver situation. And Mixon’s future will be impacted by Burrow’s deal.

But the Bengals went through their offseason program with Mixon looking again like a central figure in their offense, per Dehner. The former second-round pick has started 71 games and ripped off three 1,000-yard seasons. Last year was not one of them, with Mixon totaling just 814 rushing yards and missing three games. Mixon’s rushing yards-per-game number dropped from 75.3 in 2021 to 58.1 last season. That said, the Oklahoma alum did add a career-best 441 receiving yards. Mixon has logged 1,545 career touches. Since 2017, only Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara have topped that. His age aside, Mixon is on the downside of his career.

Mixon may reluctantly agree to the Bengals’ terms, seeing as this marks the best opportunity to remain a full-time back — especially with Perine out of the mix. While he could also hold the line and see if a Bengals team aiming to dethrone the Chiefs is keen on losing a proven upper-echelon back, the Bengals would have free-agency options as well. Four-year Browns back Kareem Hunt is still available. Cook also is taking his time, waiting for a competitive offer on a contending team. Elliott, Leonard Fournette and Darrell Henderson are also available. As for in-house options, the Bengals drafted Illinois’ Chase Brown in the fifth round. He joins fifth-year back Trayveon Williams and 2021 sixth-rounder Chris Evans on Cincy’s depth chart.

The batch of accomplished backs on the market also will probably factor into the Bengals’ Mixon price point. So will the 2023 developments at the position. No back secured more than $6.5M per year this offseason; the Cowboys and Vikings moved on from their pricey starters; Austin Ekeler was forced to accept a low-level Chargers incentive package after requesting a trade; the Giants have pulled Saquon Barkley offers off the table. While it will be interesting to see how this Mixon saga ends, it seems a near certainty his contract will be adjusted before Week 1.