Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) carries the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. The Steelers won 29-14. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Photo: Contributing Writer
Photo: Contributing Writer

Extending Mixon deal still top priority for Bengals?

The Cincinnati Bengals have been conducting their virtual offseason program on Zoom for the last few weeks, and it likely will continue that way for the foreseeable future.

Whenever they do get on the field, there will be plenty to look forward to and much work to be done.

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The NFL is allowing the gradual reopening of team facilities, beginning with non-football related personnel, but extended the virtual workouts for teams through most of June. While clubs would normally be having organized team activities at this time, teams instead are holding classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs via video conferencing.

Whether they salvage any part of a traditional offseason workout program or simply wait until training camp as their first time on the field, here is a look at where they stand now in preparations for the 2020 season:

1. Contract negotiations

A.J. Green remains among a handful of players around the league who have yet to sign their franchise tender, but it seems a contract extension for Joe Mixon might be the priority based on comments Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin made on 700 WLW Radio after the draft.

It’s unclear whether either player is participating in voluntary virtual offseason meetings.

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The Bengals have until July 15 to come to a long-term agreement with Green; otherwise, he will play out the season on the tag. Given his injury history, an extension doesn’t seem likely, but after that deadline passes the organization might be more inclined to work out a deal with Mixon, who will enter the final year of his rookie contract. The Bengals reportedly are preparing for the idea Mixon might hold out for a new contract. Green already has said he would play.

2. Biggest question marks

The pressure is on Joe Burrow to turn around the offense, but is the No. 1 overall draft pick up to that task? A non-traditional offseason doesn’t help, so he will have to adjust quickly when he gets on the field. Then, there are also concerns about the ability of the offensive line to protect him. The Bengals are banking on improvement at the end of last season to translate to more consistency in 2020 with help from the addition of 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams, who sat out with a shoulder injury last year.

The defensive backs and linebackers were the biggest emphasis for areas to improve, but Cincinnati won’t know how much better they got in those spots until they start getting together on the field. Eyes will be on the free agent additions of cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Josh Bynes, as well as drafted linebackers Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaithers and Markus Bailey.

3. Strongest positions

The Bengals already were set at running back and had solid players in the wide receiver and defensive line positions, but additions through the draft and free agency made those groups even better.

Green, Tyler Boyd and a healthy John Ross make for a quality receiving corps, and second-round draft pick Tee Higgins also potentially could push for a starting role. Auden Tate emerged as a capable backup and looks for more growth in Year 3.

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D.J. Reader’s arrival in free agency shored up the defensive line, and if he can take some of the pressure of Geno Atkins, the Bengals pass rush could be pretty solid with Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard coming off the edge.

The strength of the running back group was never a question with Mixon and Giovani Bernard, and if Rodney Anderson can get back to full strength and stay there, the Bengals should have a solid third option.

4. Position battles of note

The linebacker positions seem to be up for grabs with Jordan Evans and Germaine Pratt the lone returners from last year’s group. Wilson, a third-round pick, is a clear three-down option; Bynes is the lone veteran aside from Evans, who hasn’t proved to be a solution in the past; and Bailey and Davis-Gaithers have a chance to prove themselves worthy of higher draft status.

In other areas of the field, safety Shawn Williams might have been pushed out by the addition of Bell, so he will be trying to prove himself in a new role potentially. Higgins doesn’t have the speed of Ross but similar down-field threat abilities while blending the size of Green. At tight end, C.J. Uzomah has proven capable but the Bengals will be looking for a big leap from 2019 second-round pick Drew Sample.

5. Returning from injury

Williams is the key player to watch coming back from injury, as the Bengals never really got a chance to see how he could help the offensive line last year. He tore his labrum in OTAs and only was able to start practicing with the team in December. Burrow’s blindside will be counting on the former Alabama tackle.

Green also missed all of 2019 with an ankle injury after a toe injury cut his 2018 campaign short. He believes he’s still Pro Bowl material but he needs to show it.

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