After paying Joe Burrow last offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals have some tough decisions to make in NFL free agency this offseason. Bengals executive Duke Tobin admitted as much, suggesting that wide receiver Tee Higgins, who is a free agent this offseason, could be a player they can’t afford to keep.

“I want Tee Higgins back. Everyone on our team would like Tee Higgins back,” Tobin told on Tuesday. “There's a pie and there are things we can do and can't do because of it. We'll see.”

The Bengals have built a good young team mostly through the draft, and for several years, that allowed them to keep and add key free agents every offseason. Now, though, those young players are up for extensions, and with every big contract that gets signed, the team loses a little more of its ability to sign other players.

Bengals draft picks like Burrow, Logan Wilson, Sam Hubbard, and Trey Hendrickson have signed extensions in recent years, and now superstar WR Ja’Marr Chase is up for a massive new contract. Those deals are taking a lot of the “pie” Tobin is talking about, which is bad news for other free agents on the team.

In 2024, that means players like Tee Higgins, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, and defensive tackle DJ Reader will have to either take below-market deals from the Bengals or look elsewhere for big paydays. The next season, center Ted Karras, defensive tackle BJ Hill, running back Joe Mixon, and defensive back Mike Hilton will face the same issue.

The Bengals front office must now prove its chops in the draft, while no longer having the luxury of picking in the top 10, as they had for years while building this talented team.