PHOENIX – Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals’ team brass are gathered in Arizona for the next few days for the NFL’s annual league meetings.
AFC coaches spoke to the media to start the week before heading to meetings.
Taylor fielded questions on several topics, including the latest on quarterback Joe Burrow’s contract negotiations, where the team stands with Jonah Williams’ trade request, expectations at tight end and running back and more.
Let’s dive in.
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The latest update on Joe Burrow’s contract negotiations
When the 2022 season concluded, the Bengals shifted to the biggest focus of the offseason – a new contract for Burrow.
At the NFL combine, Bengals director of personnel Duke Tobin said the deal was not done yet. Taylor offered a similar sentiment on Monday and reiterated that while he’s involved, this isn’t something that he controls.
“I know that they’ve started and we’ll see where they go,” Taylor said. “I don’t know what the timeline is gonna be, but not my job, fortunately.”
Burrow is expected to land a mega-deal at some point this offseason. A contract extension of this magnitude requires a lot of moving pieces. Burrow’s agent and Cincinnati’s front office have started the negotiation process but aren’t there yet on the final decision.
It’s unclear at the moment what Burrow is looking for in this next contract. Bengals owner Mike Brown hinted that he liked the way the Chiefs structured Patrick Mahomes’ deal in the number of years the contract extends over. Mahomes signed a 10-year deal worth $450 million in 2020, giving him an average annual value of $45 million.
It’s one thing for the Bengals to say they want to model this new deal in a similar way, but it’s not a one-sided process. Burrow and his agent have to agree to it.
Burrow is currently making $9 million heading into the fourth season of his rookie deal. It’s likely he will be the highest-paid quarterback when his new deal is done.
If the contract extension doesn’t happen before the NFL draft at the end of April, expect it to happen before or during training camp. Deadlines spur action in these scenarios and although there’s no deadline, per se, for this deal to be done before the season, it’s highly unlikely Burrow enters Week 1 without a new deal. The NFL deadline to have guaranteed money deposited for players is March 30. A deal happening after that date would push the guaranteed money to next year.
Taylor doesn’t foresee Burrow’s negotiations delaying other new deals for key players.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins and linebacker Logan Wilson are eligible for extensions before the upcoming season.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys that want to be here and they like what we’re all about,” Taylor said. “So it’s impossible for me to speak for those guys but I just know what I see in the building is a bunch of guys that like being around each other and that like being Cincinnati Bengals and that excites me.”
‘We’ve got plans’: What’s the plan at tight end?
The Bengals are without a starting tight end at the moment. Devin Asiasi is the lone tight end on the roster. Hayden Hurst departed in free agency and Mitchell Wilcox and Drew Sample, two of the reserves behind Hurst in 2022, have not been re-signed by the team.
Taylor understands the questions about the position but insists they’re not aiming for a total reboot.
“We’re just taking it slowly right now,” he said. “But we’ve got plans. We talk about it every day. I feel good about where it’s going to end up. I can see from the outside perspective there’s only a couple guys in there that were really practice squad players and Devin, who was on the roster at cuts, but I feel really comfortable with where we’re gonna end up there. It’ll get there eventually.
It’s almost certain the Bengals will draft a tight end at some point in the NFL draft. This year’s draft class is particularly loaded at this point, which gives Cincinnati the luxury of not having to overspend for one in free agency. The Bengals have the No. 28 overall pick in the NFL draft this year.
Do the Bengals want to trade Jonah Williams?
After the Bengals made the shocking signing of left tackle Orlando Brownwithin days, Jonah Williams requested a trade.
With the acquisition of Brown, Williams is being asked to play right tackle for the Bengals. Williams, 25, is entering the final year of his deal with Cincinnati and wants to remain a left tackle.
Taylor was asked specifically if he expects Williams to be on the team in the upcoming season.
“And until,” he said. “I like everything about Jonah. I’m excited to see him come in and compete at right tackle.”
If Williams isn’t traded, the Bengals expect former second-round pick Jackson Carman to compete for the job. Taylor was especially pleased with Carman’s maturation and performance in the playoffs when he was thrust into a starting role.
“I was proud of his growth this year overall the whole course of the year,” Taylor said. “I thought he competed, he wanted opportunities to compete. He’s about the right stuff. I think he and Frank (Pollack) have developed a really good relationship. I know those linemen as a whole were really proud of the way he performed during the playoffs, those veterans, he’s earned their respect. So, that’s no shock. Linemen come in and the first year is tough and the second year gets better the third year gets a lot better so we’ve seen it enough now where that shouldn’t surprise us. So, we expect to see continued growth from Jackson.”
Williams started 42 games for the Bengals over the last three seasons. He’s a solid player the Bengals have high regard for as they drafted him with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
His height and weight hinder him at times, though. That’s why the opportunity to add Brown as an upgrade at left tackle was too good to pass up. Williams is 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds while Brown checks in at 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds. Size is especially important at left tackle because the bigger the player is, the harder it is for a defensive lineman to move him.
The switch from left to right tackle isn’t uncommon in the NFL. If Williams wanted to do it, he could. Right now, the conflict comes at what Williams wants to play and what the Bengals need him to play.
“We want guys who are willing to help us win games,” Taylor said. “And I understand there’s comfort levels playing certain sides, trust me I played quarterback so I’m not going to sit there and pretend that I’ve got experience moving from right guard to left guard. I know that there are some reps that need to take place to feel completely comfortable with that, but most of these guys have done it at some point in their career. So they’ve at least got experience doing it and that’s just the way it will go for us.”
Does Joe Mixon remain in the Bengals’ plans for the future and will the team add more running backs?
In addition to tight end, the other position the Bengals lack depth at is running back. Joe Mixon, Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans remain on the roster, but it’s almost certain Cincinnati will add a running back through the draft or in the second wave of free agency.
“It’s a possibility,” Taylor said of adding more running backs to the roster. “I feel like we got three really good players in that room and, you know, if we continue to add in free agency or the draft, then so be it.”
Although Taylor had high praise for Williams and Evans, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Bengals don’t add talent to this room. Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the Bengals need to be more explosive in the run game after finishing No. 29 in rushing offense last season.
Mixon, at age 26, remains the Bengals’ starting running back. It’s unclear if that will remain the case moving forward, though. The Bengals can save $10 million if they cut Mixon post-June 1. The former Pro Bowl running back is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro, rushing for 814 yards and seven touchdowns. He added 60 catches for 441 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and he missed two games last year with a concussion.
Taylor spoke on Mixon’s dip in production last season.
“I think everyone just looks at the yards per game and all that stuff,” Taylor said. “We’re just looking at play-by-play. Are we getting what we need? On second and 1, is the guy getting us two hard-earned yards? Well, that’s gonna crush his average. That’s gonna crush everything about the statistical stuff. When we’re getting efficient runs, that’s what we want. We got what we wanted out of those guys. There were big games that they had where they really stepped up for us, but I was proud of the job that running back did for us.”
When Samaje Perine opted to sign with the Denver Broncos instead of returning to the Bengals, it became clear that the Bengals would need to replace his production.
And what they plan to do remains uncertain at the moment.
Are the Bengals interested in Ezekiel Elliott?
Last week, a report surfaced that the Bengals were one of three teams Ezekiel Elliott was interested in joining. While Taylor didn’t rule anything out, he didn’t comment on Elliott specifically, making it seem unlikely that it will happen.
“There are a lot of great players that are always available,” Taylor said. “I think that we do our due diligence making sure we try to find the best fits for us and talk through every available prospect.”
Elliott, 27, was released by the Cowboys at the start of free agency in March. The former Ohio State standout rushed for 876 yards on 231 carries for 12 touchdowns last season. In seven seasons with the Cowboys, Elliott amassed 8,262 yards.
This article originally appeared on the Cincinnati Enquirer: Bengals offseason moves: Zac Taylor on Joe Burrow, Jonah Williams