Browns ‘Team to Watch’ in Trade Talks for $22 Million WR - Sport News

Browns ‘Team to Watch’ in Trade Talks for $22 Million WR

The Cleveland Browns added a wideout in Jerry Jeudy with potential to be a true No. 2 target alongside Amari Cooper, but the franchise could still dip its toe back into the pool of available wide receivers this offseason.

Starting quarterback Deshaun Watson has made no secret of his desire to team up with Cincinnati Bengals star Tee Higgins, putting public voice to the idea on multiple occasions. Higgins is currently under contract in Cincinnati on a one-year franchise tag deal worth nearly $22 million. However, despite the sizable payday, Higgins has since asked out, presumably seeking a team willing to offer him a multiyear contract worth considerably more guaranteed money.

Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report mentioned the Browns as one of several “teams to watch” concerning trade talks for Higgins leading up to NFL draft weekend in late April.

“Higgins requested a trade last month after the Cincinnati Bengals hit him with the franchise tag,” Gagnon wrote. “Receiver-needy teams to watch include the Giants, Jets, Bears, Ravens, Browns, Chargers, Patriots and Titans.”

Tee Higgins Has Proven He Can Be WR1 for NFL Squad

Tee Higgins, Minnesota Vikings

Higgins has produced an impressive resumé over four years with the Bengals, topping 1,000 receiving yards twice and approaching it a third time on his way to 3,684 yards and 24 TDs across 58 career games.

While Higgins is talented enough to play the role of WR1, he’s been second-fiddle to Ja’Marr Chase — perhaps among the top five pass-catchers in the NFL — for the last three seasons, which renders Higgins’ statistical production all the more impressive. During times when Chase has been sidelined by injury, Higgins has proven himself capable of performing near the top of the position group league-wide.

Watson addressed Higgins directly during the January 26 edition of his “QB Unplugged” podcast, imploring the receiver to join him in Cleveland back before the Bengals preempted Higgins’ free agency via use of the franchise tag.

“You know what’s up with us man. I know you are down to roll. We want to pass the ball and are going to pass it a lot,” Watson said. “We are going to take care of you. The Cleveland fans will love you to death and we have the Clemson ties. We didn’t get to play with each other, but this is our opportunity. Come on over to The Land.”

Trade for Tee Higgins Presents Browns With Some Difficult Financial Questions

Tee Higgins

Bringing Higgins into the fold won’t be quite so easy as Watson made it sound.

During the draft later this month, Cleveland’s front office will finally pay off the third of three first-rounders it sent to the Houston Texans to acquire Watson more than two years ago. Without a first-round pick to deal and the No. 54 selection as their best asset in 2024, the Browns would probably need to dip into future picks just to open meaningful conversations with the Bengals about a trade for Higgins.

More problematic, though, is the money Cleveland will have to pay Higgins should the team acquire him. Spotrac projects his market value at $18.6 million annually over a new four-year contract ($74.4 million total).

Browns Will Need to Employ Salary Cap Magic, Further Mortgage Future to Acquire Tee Higgins

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry selected Cade York with a fourth-round pick but it didn't work out.

Paying Higgins that sort of money won’t be simple, especially as the franchise appears to be preparing to offer Cooper an extension to cut his nearly $24 million cap number in 2024 and keep him around long-term. The Browns also extended Jeudy on a three-year deal worth $52.5 million that includes $41 million in full guarantees.

That said, structuring Jeudy’s contract with four built-in void years will allow the Browns to keep his cap hit to $4.7 million in 2024, roughly $8 million in 2025 and just over $9 million in 2026. Cleveland can, and likely will, employ the same sort of cap magic to Cooper’s extension to keep the next couple of his contract years reasonable.

The team can probably do the same thing with Higgins, thereby maximizing the Super Bowl window it created by assembling one of the league’s best defenses. The Watson variable to the equation remains a relative unknown, as he missed all but six games in 2023 due to injury and was mediocre, at best, most of the time he was on the field.

But Cleveland has already mortgaged its future to build the competitive roster it has now, so doubling-down on a play for Higgins isn’t actually all that big of a stretch. The larger questions are can the Browns put together the draft capital to acquire him and, if they can, will the Bengals be willing to deal the talented wideout within the AFC North Division?

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