Over the last several years, there have been plenty of fantasy trades Patriots fans have conducted to bring top wide receivers to the team, especially after seeing A.J. Brown traded to the Eagles and Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins.
Because Bill Belichick seemed uninterested in drafting those kinds of guys nor trade for them, there was some hope Robert Kraft would bring the pressure to get a deal done one way or another, as he had repeatedly voiced his displeasure with how New England had fared in recent seasons.
But as anticipated, nothing got done. Instead, Belichick let Jakobi Meyers walk to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster and extended DeVante Parker another year. Now that a new head coach is in charge and potentially a new general manager, too (if they ever decide to hire one), there is a chance Jerod Mayo and Co. will finally do what fans have been begging for: trade or sign a game-changing receiver this offseason.
One of the names atop the list has been Tee Higgins, who was a hopeful trade target for the Patriots last year. He was on the last year of his rookie contract, and because the Bengals will be on the hook to pay Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and others, the possibility of them figuring out a way to also pay Higgins seemed nearly impossible.
With that becoming more discussed during the 2023 offseason, Higgins became the target of trade talks, which were swiftly shut down by Cincinnati brass. However, they seem to be changing their tune just one year later.
Tee Higgins may be available for the Patriots to sign this year, after all
The Bengals' director of player personnel, Duke Tobin, recently spoke to The Cincinnati Enquirer and went over the thought process of keeping Higgins last year.
He mentioned how the receiver was under contract last year, hence their disinterest in moving on from him, but now that he's a free agent, they'll have a lot of work to do to keep him moving forward.
"Last year, Tee Higgins was under contract to us. He was a guy that we drafted for that reason, to be a contributor for us. He's not under contract now, so we're going to have to work through how to do that and if it's possible and we'll have to go through the gymnastics of that. So it's a different scenario than it was last year. Trading a high-level player that's under contract just because the future might demand it, that's never really on my mind."
There are two critical parts to what he said here. One is, " We're going to have to work through how to do that, and if it's possible, we'll have to go through the gymnastics of that." That's the first time they have publicly acknowledged the difficulty they put themselves in with their roster, signing Burrow to a top quarterback contract and the likely soon-to-be highest contract for a receiver with Chase.
It's a tricky situation but not necessarily a bad one.
The second essential part of his response is that they're in a different situation than last year, which isn't entirely true. Sure, they don't have the option of trading Higgins now. However, they have reportedly struggled to get a deal done to keep him on the team beyond last season. They're in the same boat now and will continue until an agreement is reached, which speculation suggests won't happen.
Most believe they'll be forced to franchise tag him for the 2024 season, allowing them more time to negotiate a new contract. However, it would also allow them to tag and trade him if they feel they're too far apart.
But Tobin didn't shut down the idea of the team ultimately moving on from Higgins, stating that he would like to see him back next year but that they'll have to see what happens.
"We'll see what happens this year. I want Tee Higgins back. Everyone on our team would like to have Tee Higgins back. Again, there's one pie and how big of a slice that takes and what else we can't do because of it, we'll have to determine and we'll see."
This could be the Patriots' time to pounce on a rising star in the NFL. Higgins may not be a Brown or Hill, but he would be a massive upgrade over who the team has under contract for next season, and he's just 25 years old. Despite playing behind Chase for all but one season, he's shown to be a weapon for the Bengals, and he has the stats to prove it.
If Mayo truly intends on "burning some cash" this offseason, trying all he can to get Higgins in the building would be a hot start.