Bengals focus at Senior Bowl is offensive, defensive linemen

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Duke Tobin’s message about the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster build for next season sounds familiar.

The Bengals director of player personnel spoke to media Tuesday for the first time since July at the Senior Bowl, where he and others are scouting in preparation for the draft.

In addressing questions about the possibility of Ja’Marr Chase getting his extension and pending free agents Tee Higgins and Jonah Williams also returning, Tobin went back to the pie metaphor he often used last year when discussing how Joe Burrow’s extension would affect other players needing deals.

Tobin said the organization wants to keep as many of its top contributors as possible but the salary cap pie is only so big.

“We like Ja’Marr; he’s in our long-term plans,” Tobin told Bengals.com writer Geoff Hobson. “He’s a high-level player in this league. And we want to keep those kinds of players on our team. I want Tee Higgins back. Everyone on our team would like Tee Higgins back. There’s a pie and there are things we can do and can’t do because of it. We’ll see.”

Chase is under contract for another year but is eligible for an extension, which he wants to get done before the 2024 season but preferably after Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson signs his new deal. Higgins becomes a free agent in March, unless the Bengals opt to use the franchise tag to keep him or somehow manage to reach an agreement on a new contract.

According to Bengals.com, Tobin wouldn’t comment on the possibility of giving Higgins the franchise tag and then trading him or of Chase’s stated desire to sign after Jefferson.

Williams is the other offensive starter set to become a free agent that could be difficult to replace. He made a smooth transition from left tackle to right tackle this past season and Tobin noted to Bengals.com that other teams might be willing to give Williams a bigger piece of their own pie.

“It was impressive,” Tobin said. “He showed he’s versatile, which will play well over time with him.”

For now, the Bengals are keying in on offensive and defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl, though, and that would have been the case regardless of the organization’s interest in bringing back Williams or the potential need to replace Higgins.

“There hasn’t been a year we don’t want to continue to develop both lines of scrimmage,” Tobin told Bengals.com. “That’s where the game is won and lost. There are great players on every team that are great skill players and you need them to make big plays in big moments and they want the ball in their hands in big moments. But the game is won and lost on the line of scrimmage and everyone is down here at the Senior Bowl focused on the line of scrimmage.

“Those are the guys that are hard to find. You get a great rusher and it makes teams have to rely on their tackles. And if they’re not up to it, it’s a big problem. You want to be that problem for the other team and solve that problem for yourself.”

Tobin also is scheduled to speak to media at the NFL Combine on Feb. 27 in Indianapolis.

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