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There won't be any franchise-tag drama between Tee Higgins and the Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals became the first team to use the tag this offseason when they officially placed it on Higgins on Monday. Coach Zac Taylor definitely seemed thrilled with the news. 

"Tee has done an outstanding job for us since we drafted him in 2020," Taylor said in a statement. "I'm glad that he'll continue to be a big part of our offense and our team."

The fact that the Bengals decided to tag Higgins isn't that surprising, but the timing of the decision is somewhat unusual. Most teams wait until closer to the tag deadline before making a decision on whether to use the franchise tag (the deadline this year is March 5). That gives the team more time to work out a possible long-term deal with the player.   

Speaking at the NFL Combine Tuesday, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin explained why the team didn't wait to get the tag done. 

"It's really simple: He's a good player, we want to keep him, and we have resources to do that, so we decided early to do it," Tobin said. "And that's where we are. We like Tee. We're a better team with Tee. With the way we managed our cap, we had the ability to put the franchise tag on him, and we did."  

The decision by the Bengals comes just days after they -- and the 31 other teams -- got an unexpected gift from the NFL when the league announced that the salary cap would be set at $255.4 million in 2024, which is $10 million to $15 million more than most teams were expecting. 

The Bengals will now be using some of that extra money to pay Higgins, who will get a fully guaranteed one-year deal worth $21.816 million if he plays on the tag. Once Higgins signs his franchise deal, he'll have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract with the Bengals. If that doesn't happen, then he'll go into the 2024 season on his one-year deal. 

Whether the Bengals intend to work out a long-term deal with Higgins, Tobin didn't reveal their plans.

"In terms of our intentions going forward and answering hypotheticals of what could and couldn't come about, I won't get into that," Tobin said. "We feel like we're a better team with him. The reason we franchised him is because we'd like to have him. He's not under contract, and it's hard for me to predict all the different scenarios that could happen. We feel strongly about Tee Higgins and his fit with us."

With Higgins getting tagged on Feb. 26, that will make him just the fourth player since 2018 to be tagged in the month of February. This is also the earliest that ANY player has been tagged since Jarvis Landry was hit with the franchise tag by the Dolphins on Feb. 20 back in 2018. 

Keeping Higgins was high on Cincinnati's priority list for the offseason. The Bengals didn't hide the fact that they wanted to keep Higgins, with everyone from Joe Burrow to Tobin, making it clear that they wanted the receiver back. 

"He's a big part of what we have done here," Burrow said of Higgins in January. "It's no secret our relationship. 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."

Tobin echoed those comments at the Senior Bowl in late January. 

"I want Tee Higgins back," Tobin said, via the team's official website. "Everyone on our team would like Tee Higgins back."

Higgins has been quite the weapon for the Bengals since being selected with the 33rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In four seasons with the team, Higgins has hit the 1,000-yard mark twice, and he's been one of the best No. 2 receivers in the NFL playing alongside Ja'Marr Chase

Higgins regularly comes up with big catches and if you need proof of that, just go rewatch Super Bowl LVI when he scored both of Cincinnati's touchdowns in a 23-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He also made one of the most impressive catches of the 2023 season when he caught a game-tying touchdown against the Vikings in Week 16. 

That score by Higgins sent the game to overtime where the Bengals would eventually win 27-24. 

Higgins did have a down year in 2023 with just 42 catches for 656 yards, but that was mostly because he was dealing with injuries all season. The 25-year-old missed a total of five games with nagging injuries that included a a fractured rib, a hamstring problem and an ankle issue. 

The injury problems could become a concern if they continue in 2024, but Higgins is a proven talent, so the Bengals probably didn't give the injuries too much thought when they decided to tag him.

With Higgins tagged so early, the Bengals could be approached at the combine about a possible sign-and-trade, but unless they get absolutely blown away by an offer, it seems likely that Higgins will be in Cincinnati in 2024 doing his best to help the Bengals get back to the Super Bowl.