Sunday’s finale could be last game together for Bengals’ Chase, Higgins, Boyd

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Ja’Marr Chase said it suddenly hit him this week that this could be the end of an era for the Cincinnati Bengals “Big Three” receivers.

With Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd on expiring contracts and Chase due for a pricey extension, the 2023 season is likely the last those three wide receivers will play together.

Higgins, doubtful to play Sunday in the finale against Cleveland because of a hamstring injury, might have played his last game with the Bengals already, but Chase plans to savor what could be his last chance to lineup with Boyd.

“It hit me really this week just knowing the opportunity might not be there or it might not feel the same, so it definitely hit me,” Chase said.

The Bengals were unable to reach an agreement on an extension with Higgins ahead of this season, while Joe Burrow and Logan Wilson got deals done, and it appears the plan is to continue to build the offense around Burrow and Chase, their two top-five draft picks under Zac Taylor.

Chase, of course, would like to have Higgins and Boyd back, but said “you never know.”

“They know I want them,” Chase said. “They know what I want, but at the end of the day, it’s what they want. I don’t want to hold nobody back from what they want. That’s not me letting them be the greatest they can be at the end of the day. I support anything they do. Those are my brothers.”

Cincinnati’s “Big Three” has made up arguably the best receiving trio in the league the last three years since Chase joined as the No. 5 overall draft pick in 2021. Higgins came the year prior as the first pick of the second round in 2020, after the Bengals selected Burrow at No. 1 overall, and Boyd had established him as the team’s most reliable pass catcher before that, as A.J. Green’s final three seasons were impacted by injury.

Chase took the group to the next level, leading the team in receiving yards each of the past three seasons with a trio of Pro Bowl 1,000-yard campaigns. Higgins enjoyed a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in 2021 and 2022, after just coming up shy of that as a rookie, but injuries have limited him to 11 starts this year and he will finish with 656 yards and five touchdowns this season, assuming he doesn’t play Sunday.

Boyd’s targets and yards dropped off with the addition of Higgins and Chase, but he still proved to be one of the most consistent slot receivers in the league.

“When your best players work as hard as they do, it filters throughout the team,” Taylor said. “... That is a great way to build a team and experience success when your team is willing to do that.”

Taylor wasn’t ready to put any sort of finality to the trio’s time together but said he has enjoyed coaching them. Chase could end up the veteran leader of a new group of receivers next year, depending on the turnover this offseason. He said he’s not ready to think too much on that.

“I could say there’s a lot of memories, a lot of laughs, just a lot of bonding going on with those guys, just something I can’t explain, that’s how much fun we always having,” Chase said. “But if that does happen and I end up the oldest (of a new group), then it just happens. I can’t control that. I just have to do my job and lead by example.”

Cincinnati could end up using a franchise tag to keep Higgins for another year, but Chase said his teammate is deserving of No. 1 receiver type of money, which is likely why the Bengals couldn’t strike a deal with him to this point.

Chase is hoping to get his own extension done this offseason, but joked that Justin Jefferson has to get his done first. The two former LSU teammates have a friendly competition over who is the best and contracts are a part of that.

“We’ll see what happens this offseason,” Chase said. “I’m just enjoying what’s in front of me right now.”

Guaranteed money up front is the most important thing to Chase in the negotiation process, but when asked if he needs guaranteed money in Year 2, he joked with a reporter that he gave “a little spice” and that was all he would say.

When asked if he would take less money to leave more room for Higgins to get a deal done, Chase said he wasn’t sure because “it might come from somewhere else.”

In the meantime, Chase is hoping the team goes out on a high note Sunday. He says he is probably only “73 percent” strength as he is still recovering from a separated shoulder, but he is feeling stronger and making progress. He said he won’t need surgery this offseason and could be back to 100 percent in time for the Pro Bowl, which he “might” play in.

It would have been reasonable for Chase not to play Sunday given the Bengals already are out of the playoffs and the Browns aren’t playing their starters. He plans to play, though.

“It’s been a hard season,” Chase said. “I just want to show the guys I put my body on the line for those guys, and I love football and that’s a really big standard and you never know when it’s going to be your last game. At the end of the day, I just want to give my thanks to the guys that are in this locker room with me. They may be here with me next year or not, so just another opportunity to play with the guys.”


Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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