Look, I get it. Running backs are replaceable. Giving Joe Mixon $48 million over four years might mean we can’t keep all of our core players next year, which include one of my favorite players of all time, A.J. Green.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate the fact that the Bengals - who were historically cheap until just a few months ago - locked up one of their biggest contributors on and off the field.
Just a few months ago, Billy Price told me: “[Mixon] is the first guy to talk about things, the first guy checking people to hold them accountable... That’s the leader in the locker room. That’s my guy.”
Furthermore, Mixon has made do with an offensive line that really didn’t give him a lot of holes until maybe late last year.
As Doug Farrar notes, despite that lack of help, Mixon still had 52 broken tackles last year, fifth among running backs. Farrar adds that one of his big plays was a 29-yarder against the New England Patriots, a game in which Andy Dalton went 17 of 31 for 151 yards, 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. Mixon’s hard running caused Patriots coach Bill Belichick to remark that he “probably is the best back in the league.”
Mixon is also capable receiver, durable, and still only 24. And here’s the most important part — yes, it’d be great to follow the analytics on every signing. But for a franchise like the Bengals, it’s important to first change the culture. Zac Taylor recognized that and brought in a lot of former team captains.
When Mixon takes pride in playing in Cincinnati and even recruits other players, that is huge for the perception of the team, both fans and other players. That culture change is a big reason the Bengals were able to land D.J. Reader, and there’s no denying that Mixon is a major part of the emerging identity of the team.