Sunday's AFC and NFC championship games were a reminder of everything needed to get to the precipice of glory in the NFL. A reminder of everything Bears general manager Ryan Poles has to find as his rebuild efforts begin.
You can point to the power of the Eagles' offensive line or the relentlessness of their defensive front. You can look at the 49ers' ferocious and unrelenting defense or their litany of offensive weapons that allows for deadly versatility and multiplicity.
The Bears must fix the trenches on both sides of the ball. That has to be priority No. 1 this offseason. But you couldn't watch Sunday without noticing that three of the four teams vying for a Super Bowl berth had multiple elite pass catchers. The fourth, the Kansas City Chiefs, has one of the best tight ends in NFL history and the greatest quarterback in the league.
The Bears should be in the market for at least one top-tier pass-catcher this offseason. In reality, they need at least two more players who can win one-on-one matchups and make life easier for quarterback Justin Fields.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins is a name that has been floating around Bears Twitter for a few months. The dream is that Higgins, who is under contract for 2024, will ask the Bengals to trade him away from quarterback Joe Burrow and a team that has gone to back-to-back AFC title games, and the Bengals, having fallen into a state of delirium, will send him to the Bears.
It's a tremendous dream. Higgins is an elite jump-ball receiver who would help open up the field for Darnell Mooney and lighten the expectations for Chase Claypool.
But I fail to see a reality where the Bengals nuke their Super Bowl window by sending one of their three core players to Chicago.
Let's go through the details.
Higgins remains under contract through next season. I'd guess the Bengals will work on extensions for him and Burrow this offseason. Ja'Marr Chase still has two seasons and a fifth-year option left on his rookie contract.
Since Burrow still has one season and a fifth-year option left on his rookie deal, the notoriously frugal Bengals actually find themselves in a decent spot to keep all three in Cincinnati without eviscerating their cap for several years.
It's a fair assumption that the Bengals will get the mega-extension done with Burrow this offseason. Assuming they map it out as the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes and the Bills with Josh Allen, the big numbers for Burrow won't start rolling in until the 2025 season. Chase's big money won't start coming in until the 2026 campaign, assuming it's handled similarly.
That should give the Bengals the ability to extend Higgins and have a large chunk of that money guaranteed at signing to lower the initial cap hit. This past offseason, the 49ers signed Deebo Samuel to a three-year, $58 million extension with a $24 million signing bonus. That signing bonus made Samuel's cap hit for 2023, the first year of the extension, just $8.6 million with a $1 million base salary.
Given that Higgins, Burrow, and Chase will each have their extensions kick in one year apart, the Bengals should be able to spread it out enough to keep all three in the fold and reload the roster around them. The Bengals also don't have a lot of money on the books at the moment, so the expected hard financial decisions likely will focus on players like safety Jessie Bates, running back Joe Mixon, wide receiver Tyler Boyd, and edge rusher Trey Hendrickson. Burrow, Chase, and Higgins should be penciled into the Bengals' future in ink.
After the Bengals' loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, Higgins was asked about his future in Cincinnati.
“I’d love to play with Joe (Burrow) for a while," Higgins told reporters. "He’s a great guy and a great quarterback. We have developed a really good friendship, but you know how the league works. I still have another year on my deal though, so we’ll see.”
That "we'll see" might seem like enough to keep the dream alive, but it's just Higgins being where his feet are, knowing things can always change.
But he'd have to want the change. He'd have to want to leave Burrow, Chase, and a team that seems primed to contend for Super Bowls for, if you ask Burrow, the next 15 years. The Bengals would also have to agree to deal an essential part of their success for a draft pick and the belief they can find another Tee Higgins.
Even if Higgins wanted out, and there's no indication that's the case, the Bengals could just do what the 49ers did with Samuel last offseason. Samuel requested a trade, the 49ers declined it, stared him down, knowing they had the contract leverage, and finally ironed out a deal. That the Bengals are now a perennial Super Bowl contender and Higgins has a good connection and friendship with Burrow makes it all the more unlikely that a request will come.
While the Bengals are known for their frugality, they also have been a franchise that prefers to keep their homegrown players. As long as the Bengals are willing to pay Higgins, there's no reason to believe he'll be playing anywhere but Cincinnati for the next handful of years.