The Cincinnati Bengals' contract crunch is starting to catch up to them. With organized team activities underway, star wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are not present. Their absence, while not disastrous, is still noteworthy as Cincy works out the details of their next contracts.

Chase and Higgins are among the numerous players who are not in attendance at the Bengals' voluntary OTAs, according to Jay Morrison of Pro Football Network. Offensive tackle Trent Brown and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins are also not there.

Higgins is ineligible to report to OTAs since he has not signed the franchise tag yet (and does not plan to). Brown and Rankins have yet to report after signing in free agency with the Bengals. They respectively agreed to one- and two-year deals. Chase, like Higgins, is still hoping to receive a long-term deal.

While there is still plenty of time left until the regular season, the Bengals missing their top playmakers for the first team. workouts of the offseason aren’t preferable. The front office has its work cut out to get new contracts in place.

Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins skip Bengals' voluntary OTAs

Higgins' trade request has been one of the Bengals' biggest storylines this offseason. The 25-year-old was offered a $22 million franchise tag but, as is typical in these situations, he understandably prefers more long-term security. Chase, whose current contract goes through the 2025 season after the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option, is eligible for an extension. After emerging as one of the very best wideouts in the NFL, he wants to get paid like one.

The Bengals aren’t at risk of falling off a cliff but they could take a step toward that drop-off if they bungle these new deals.

The AFC is going to be the Kansas City Chiefs' conference until it isn’t but there are plenty of other good teams, too. The Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and others could surpass the Bengals as the top contenders to take down KC. The Texans now have former Bengals running back Joe Mixon to help them out.

Not only is Mixon elsewhere but so is Tyler Boyd, who signed with the Tennessee Titans. The Bengals have to revamp the skill positions in the offense. It’s extra important that Cincinnati figures out how to keep Chase and Higgins on board.

The Bengals surely want to keep Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins around for the long haul but have to take the necessary steps to make it happen. For the time being, Joe Burrow will have to start getting ready for the 2024 season without his top targets.