Bengals tagged Tee Higgins to have him in 2024, but would they entertain trade offers?

A year ago, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin shot down trade rumors regarding Tee Higgins.

"Trading Tee Higgins is not on my mind," Tobin said at the 2023 Scouting Combine. "That's their problem. They want a receiver, go find your own."

At Tuesday's media session at the combine, Tobin was not as defiant when asked if he had the same message for teams interested in a possible trade for Higgins this offseason.

The Bengals already have announced they are using the franchise tag on Higgins, keeping him off the unrestricted free agent market, but it doesn't rule out a trade of Higgins.

Tobin didn't rule it out either.

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

The Bengals would love to keep Higgins on a long-term deal, but No. 1 receiver Ja'Marr Chase already has made it clear he wants an extension this offseason. He has one year left on his rookie deal, and the Bengals certainly will exercise the fifth-year option on the contract.

Can they afford to keep Higgins long term, too?

"It's always a priority when you think about premier-type players and how long you want them," Tobin said. "We work within the confines of the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] like every other team does, and 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's coming up and who we want to have long-term relationships with. It's a never-ending puzzle. Just when you put a piece in, someone reaches over and takes a piece out. So, we're trying to fit more pieces in than they're taking out."

The Bengals wasted no time in tagging Higgins, the first player to receive the franchise tag this offseason, despite career-worst numbers because of a hamstring injury that kept him out of five games and parts of others. He finished 2023 with 42 catches for 656 yards and five touchdowns.

In four seasons, Higgins has 257 receptions for 3,684 yards and 24 touchdowns.

"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, and that's where we are," Tobin said. "We like Tee. We're a better team with Tee. With the way that we've managed our cap, we had the ability to put the franchise tag on him, and we did."

The question remains, though, about whether the Bengals will keep him.