Cincinnati Bengals: Salary cap uncertainty could be obstacle in Mixon contract extension

Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) looks for yards during the first quarter of their game against the Steelers, at Paul Brown Stadium, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) looks for yards during the first quarter of their game against the Steelers, at Paul Brown Stadium, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon posted on Twitter over the weekend that he has some big life decisions to make, and speculation began that he was talking about pondering a contract extension.

Bengals Director of Personnel Duke Tobin made it clear Monday in an online news conference the organization wants to keep Mixon around long-term. However, uncertainty with the salary cap next year could create an obstacle in those negotiations.

Mixon, the team’s second-round pick in 2017, is entering the last year of his $5.5 million rookie contract. He’s coming off his second straight season with 1,000 yards rushing.

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“Joe is an important part of our team, a piece that we’d like to get extended and have around here a long time,” Tobin said. “Typically, our extensions have gotten done during camp at some point. There are challenges with some uncertainty with the cap this year, next year and even the year after and how to structure something that’s agreeable to both sides. So, there are challenges that we’ll be working through and hopefully we were able to come to an agreement. Time will tell on that. But it’s something that we’re certainly cognizant of and want to address.”

The Carolina Panthers gave Christian McCaffrey a four-year contract extension worth $64 million this offseason, which tops the running back pay scale and now sets the bar higher for others at the position looking for new deals. That number could be difficult for the Bengals to top in this economic climate.

When asked if the value of future markets -- specifically what is available next offseason -- impacts what the Bengals are able to negotiate now, Tobin said “you always take the burden at hand.”

“Joe’s been a great player for us, and we can we want him around here,” Tobin said. “We know what he is. He came in and earned it. He came in somewhat under some tough circumstances and he showed everybody that he was the player and the person that we believe he is and would become. He’s a guy that we’re proud of, ... Regardless of what’s in the draft next year, what’s in free agency, we know that Joe is a piece that we want them so we’ll work to see if that can come together.”

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The Bengals held off on giving A.J. Green the long-term deal he wanted this offseason, but he will have a chance to earn one if he proves himself healthy this season, Tobin said. Green is playing on a franchise tag worth $18 million.

Tobin declined to say how close the Bengals were to getting a long-term contract done with Green. Similarly, he couldn’t say if cornerback William Jackson is in line for an extension but noted he thinks Jackson will have a big year after playing through injuries in 2019. Jackson is playing on a fifth-year option.

The Bengals surprisingly spent more than $153 million (in total expenses through 2023) through free agency this offseason, and Tobin said he’s pleased with where the roster is heading into training camp. Veterans arrived for physicals Sunday and will gradually work up to normal practices over the next two weeks.

“We went into the offseason with a plan,” Tobin said. “Not all plans come together. You never know how things are gonna go in free agency and it’s very hard to predict the draft. But we are incredibly satisfied with what we were able to accomplish this offseason. We think we have a lot of really good pieces walking in the building today and tomorrow. It’s great to see the guys. The guys who have come that I’ve seen really look good, they are healthy, they are ready to go and they are excited about the season. We are very excited about the season and getting started. It’s been a long time.”

The COVID-19 pandemic makes roster decisions a little more challenging this preseason, especially considering there are no exhibition games to evaluate players and free agents can only visit for physicals and only if the roster is under 80 during camp.

Cincinnati already had one player opt out of this season, as offensive tackle Isaiah Prince was announced on the transactions list last week, and Tobin confirmed that defensive tackle Josh Tupou has decided to opt-out, as was reported last week.