The Cincinnati Bengals have the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL. They not only have two legitimate No. 1 wide receivers in Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, but they also have one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in Tyler Boyd.
This will likely be the last year the three are together on the same field in the same uniform as Higgins and Boyd are both entering the last years of their contracts, and there’s only enough money to keep one of them in stripes, but it’s also possible the team could lose both of them in free agency after the 2023 season.
Both outside receivers are coming off two consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns, and the offense is poised for a big season in 2023. The potential Higgins extension has become somewhat of a divisive subject lately. While quarterback Joe Burrow’s extension is obviously the most important, there are several players up for extensions that are deserving, including Higgins, Logan Wilson, DJ Reader, and others.
According to The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr., who did a deep dive on data from when both Chase and Higgins played without the other, and what he found “partially swayed” his opinion on the potential $25 million per year contract that Higgins is likely looking to sign.
Dehner noted that the Bengals were 3-1 when they missed Chase for four games with a hip injury. The Bengals lost two of the three games in which Higgins was unable to play. Using the following two charts, Dehner came to the conclusion that Chase’s expected points per target (EPA/target) dropped from at 0.3 to a 0.08 when Higgins was not in the game while Higgins’ EPA/target rose from 0.32 to 0.39 when he played without Chase.
Obviously, without Higgins in the game, teams focused on Chase, keeping him in front of them at all times, limiting his explosive plays. However, without Chase, defenses tried to do the same thing to Higgins, only it wasn’t as effective.
Dehner also pointed out that without Chase, Higgins’s yards per route run was 2.46, tying him for fourth best in the NFL with Jaylen Waddle. Chase’s yards per route run when Higgins was out was 2.29, which placed him 12th in the league.
Dehner did say that he doesn’t believe that this makes Higgins a better receiver than Chase.
“To be clear,” he wrote. “this date set doesn’t mean I’m arguing Higgins is a better receiver than Chase. What Chase provides on the field, his versatility, run after catch, attention drawn and at times unstoppable connection with Burrow tops any weapon on the entire Cincinnati roster. Full stop.”
Using all the date, Dehner concluded that Higgins makes Chase a much more efficient receiver when the two are on the field together, and that Chase isn’t the sole reason that Higgins has found success. He wrote that “Higgins brings and invaluable resource to not only elevate his partner but offer an activated insurance policy should the offense need to function without option 1A.”
If you were hoping the team could save some money by letting Higgins go at the end of the season, does this information change your mind?