Is Joe Mixon On His Way Out?

Joe Mixon has carved out an impressive legacy with the Bengals. The former 2nd round pick has 40 career rushing touchdowns, which is good for fourth best in franchise history and ranks fifth in franchise history in rushing yards (5,378). Only a mere 43 yards away from fourth all-time. But he may not get that chance to pass Pete Johnson.

The writing has been on the wall since the final drive of the AFC Championship game in January. Cincinnati has been very noncommittal to Joe Mixon after numerous opportunities to stick by their back. They haven’t been quiet about their external search for a new ball carrier either. Both via free agency and the NFL Draft. It’s been a bizarre offseason for Joe Mixon too, his absence from Twitter has been noted by fans, and his off-the-field headlines have been circled by the team. If the Bengals do move off of Joe Mixon, it will come after the NFL Draft when they can lock in a replacement for one of their longtime starters.

Why are the Bengals looking to replace Joe Mixon? The 26-year-old is losing his explosiveness. Mixon ranked 48th out of 60 qualifying backs in breakaway percentage (15+ yard gains). Mixon has also lost his elusiveness. He is not forcing missed tackles which led to his 3.9 yards per carry, the third worst in his career. To top it all off, the Bengals have shown they can not rely on him. Both on the final drives in the Super Bowl and the AFC Championship Mixon was not out on the field because he cannot block. His inability to pass block hurts the team tremendously, especially when you have a historically bad offense line.

A strong sign that the Bengals may not keep Joe Mixon around for 2023 was Duke Tobin’s response to a question regarding Mixon’s future with the team at the NFL Combine. Tobin quoted The Office’s Kevin Malone among other words

“I don’t know.” “I’m not going to predict the offseason because I don’t have the answers.”

Bengals GM Duke Tobin at the NFL Combine

Just recently Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn was asked about Joe Mixon’s status with the Bengals:

“Right now, he’s on the team.”

Bengals Executive Vice President on Joe Mixon’s roster status

We all know that is classic coach speak when a player is no longer in their plans.

Those are very noncommittal words from a front office that is always publicly committed to their best players who they plan to keep. Even as far as telling other teams to essentially stop calling them with a “go get your own” attitude toward baseless Tee Higgins trade rumors.

Reading between the lines, Joe Mixon was pretty quiet after the Bengals made a big splash signing his former college teammate, Orlando Brown Jr. Mixon’s radio silence is strange for one of the more active and outspoken players on social media who has contributed to trying to recruit other players via social media in the past.

I wouldn’t look too far into it, but it could be a small sign that Mixon isn’t feeling a part of the team right now.

It’s clear the Bengals were looking to pay a north-south running, pass-protecting running back. Their efforts to re-sign Samaje Perine, their reported interest in Jamaal Williams before he landed with New Orleans, and now the Ezekiel Elliott buzz points to the team willing to put cash into the RB room. But they are not going to pay two unexplosive running backs it’s just bad business. Their willingness to pay an RB2 means their willingness to move on from Joe Mixon.

Cincinnati didn’t just look at free agency to find a new bell cow. The Bengals met with several running backs at the NFL Combine back in February.

The offensive staff is doing their due diligence at this position ahead of the NFL draft. Having met with big names in Jahmyr Gibbs and Zach Charbonnet, two possible 2nd round targets. They’re not ruling out a back in the middle to late rounds of the NFL draft either, meeting with Israel Abanikanda, Cam Peoples, and Tavion Thomas among others. Most of these backs share a similar skill set to Mixon. Except they would come at a much less expensive price tag and fresh legs.

The Bengals were perhaps blindsided by Samaje Perine’s decision to reject their contract offer and sign with the Denver Broncos instead.

“Now Samaje Perine, they made an aggressive play for, and I think they were surprised that he opted to go to Denver,” said Dehner. “I think they felt like that was one they were going to get done. They were willing to go just about anywhere within reason.”

Paul Dehner Jr. reports Bengals heavy interest in retaining Samaje Perine

This likely threw off their plans at running back, and now Mixon is still in play to stay on the roster. Had they been able to retain Perine, the Bengals and Joe Mixon could have parted ways and saved about $12.6M in cap space. But the Bengals will not part with a player unless they’ve lined up a replacement. Perine would have replaced some of Mixon’s salary, and a new outside addition to the position would have replaced Mixon’s role on the team.

Mixon is just getting too worn down and too expensive with a $12.7M cap hit in 2023. It’s bad business to pay a running back when they’re easily replaceable and have a short shelf life. Matters worsen when you have to pay Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase in short order.

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