Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown met with reporters on Monday ahead of the opening of training camp.

Brown spoke on a variety of topics, including keeping quarterback Joe Burrow long-term and the contract situation with safety Jessie Bates.

The Bengals and Bates were unable to agree on a contract extension this offseason, which means Bates will have to play the 2022 season on the franchise tag. Bates hasn’t signed the franchise tag yet, but the expectation is that he eventually will. For now, Bates isn’t reporting to training camp.

Cincinnati is still hopeful that it can get a deal done with Bates next offseason, though it’s easy to see why there’s not much optimism that a deal will happen.

“He fits with us,” said Brown of Bates on Monday. “We were two years trying to extend him. We weren’t able to get there. I regret that we didn’t. We will have another chance at the end of the season.”

Brown noted that part of the reason Bates hasn’t been extended is because the Bengals are planning for their future, which includes extensions for Burrow and, presumably, wide receivers Ja’marr Chase and Tee Higgins.

Cincinnati obviously doesn’t have unlimited funds, not to mention there’s a salary cap, so they have to be judicious in how they spend their cash.

It seems like the Bengals are more comfortable with letting Bates walk (or trading him) and then extending, Burrow, Chase, and Higgins.

A better idea, however, might be to trade Higgins and extend Bates.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) smiles as he scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the NFL Week 16 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021. The Bengals improved to 9-6 on the season with a 41-21 win over the Ravens.
Baltimore Ravens At Cincinnati Bengals Week 16

Higgins is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He was overshadowed last season due to Chase’s breakout season, but Higgins is quietly one of the better wide receivers in the league. The former Clemson standout had 1,091 yards and six touchdowns last season. Not bad for a guy playing second fiddle to the best wide receiver in the AFC North.

So why trade him?

It’s all about Cincinnati putting together a well-rounded team for the future. And I think Bates might be more important to the Bengals’ success than Higgins.

Burrow is the type of quarterback who makes those around him better. Wide receivers seemingly play at a higher level because they’re on the field with Burrow. It reminds me of the effect Tom Brady had on wide receivers in New England. In theory, it should be easier for Cincy to find a replacement for Higgins than it would be to replace Bates.

I know the Bengals drafted safety Daxton Hill, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be a suitable replacement for Bates.

Cincy should let this season play out and then consider trading Higgins after this season. It would give Higgins’ new team a whole season to work out an extension (which should improve the compensation the Bengals would get in return). And most importantly, it would open up a significant amount of future cash for the Bengals to get a deal done with Burrow, Bates, and Chase.

Cincinnati has some options that would include keeping Bates. They just have to figure out which option they like the best.

Featured image via Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK