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Zac Taylor on applying franchise tag to WR Tee Higgins: 'We want to make sure we don't lose him'

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cincinnati Bengals franchise tagged star wide receiver Tee Higgins with plenty of time to spare before the window closed.

Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said Tuesday during the NFL Scouting Combine that the club didn't wait until closer to the deadline, like most teams, because Cincinnati simply wanted to ensure it would keep a key player in-house.

"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."

Higgins is coming off a career-low 657 receiving yards as he missed five games due to injury, but generated a career-high 15.6 yards per catch in 2023. In four seasons with the Bengals, he's earned 257 catches for 3,684 yards with 24 touchdowns and 185 first downs.

Franchise tagging the 25-year-old wideout for about $21.816 million makes sense for Cincy. It's likely cheaper than he'd get on the open market, and it gives the club control. The Bengals can either play out the season and do the dance again in 2025, ink the wideout to a long-term contract, or trade him while on the tag.

Tobin wouldn't get into speculation on their plans but indicated the club hopes to keep Higgins in the fold.

"In terms of our intentions going forward and answering hypotheticals of what could and couldn't come about, I won't get into that," he 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."

Some players get irked by the tag keeping them from cashing in on the open market -- as we saw a lot last year with running backs.

Coach Zac Taylor believes the staff and team's relationship with Higgins will smooth out any angst from the wideout.

"We think the world of Tee," Taylor said Tuesday. "He's in this position because of the work that he's put in for us and the value he has for us. We want to make sure we don't lose him. That's just the business part right now, and we'll continue through that. Fortunately, we've got a great relationship with Tee, and that will carry us through the offseason."

Figuring out Higgins' long-term future within the parameters of the rest of the roster -- with Joe Burrow on a big deal and Ja'Marr Chase needing to get paid -- figures to be one of the biggest puzzle pieces Tobin and his staff have to deal with moving forward.

"It's always a priority when you think of premier-type players and how long you want them," Tobin said. "We work within the confines of the CBA like every other team does. Sometimes, things come together on a long-term basis. Sometimes they don't. So, we use the resources we have. But we're always thinking about the future of players, and who is coming up (as a free agent) and who all we want to have long-term relationships with. It's a never-ending puzzle. Just when you put a piece in, somebody reaches over and takes a piece out. So, we're trying to fit more pieces in than they're taking out."

The Bengals have ensured they can keep the Higgins puzzle piece in Cincy for at least one more year.

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