Is cutting Joe Mixon the easiest decision of the offseason?

Is cutting Joe Mixon the easiest decision of the offseason?
Is cutting Joe Mixon the easiest decision of the offseason?

CINCINNATI, Ohio — The Bengals have reached a crossroads at running back.

They could opt for more of the same next season by shedding the rest of the extension and starting running back Joe Mixon who was signed in 2020, then look to fill out the depth behind him through free agency.

Mixon is one of only two backs under contract for next season with Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams entering free agency.

Bengals running backs in focus:

  • 2022 Position Review: How effective was the one-two punch of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine?
  • If the Bengals need a new RB, these 4 NFL Draft prospects could fit the bill in 2023

Cincinnati could choose to hit the reset button instead by cutting ties with Mixon at a time when they need savings — the organization is looking to sign quarterback Joe Burrow this year to a mega deal that will likely pay him more than $40 million annually — and could find his replacement in a talented draft class of running backs.

The veteran fullback’s cap hit of $12.7 million next season ranks seventh-highest at the position, according to Spotrac. The Bengals can save just $7.3 million if they cut Mixon before June 1 and $10 million if he is cut after that.

Those cap savings wouldn’t be quite as attractive if the miles on his odometer weren’t reaching dangerous levels.

He has 1,677 career touches — that’s the total number of carries and receptions including the postseason — and he will be 27 years old when the 2023 season starts, at a position where players often suffer a decline in performance around that age.

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There was evidence of that already in 2022.

While the Bengals touted Mixon’s efficiency, his yards after contact were down (3.03 to 2.61), he forced significantly fewer missed tackles (53 to 26) and had less explosive runs (36 to 21), according to Pro Football Focus. These are the lowest numbers in each category, barring his injury shortened 2020 season, since he was a rookie in 2017.

There are other factors at play that can tip the scales in either direction as well.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters during his season-ending press conference that he appreciates Mixon’s veteran presence.

“I thought he was a good leader for our team,” Taylor said. “Good, lots of good energy. Works his tail off, loves to train, loves to play football. Just loved his energy.”

Taylor also appreciated Mixon putting aside some of his personal goals as the coaching staff changed the offense this year.

“I think he just understands what’s important as an offense focused on winning,” Taylor said. “And as we continue to add more weapons, it makes everybody’s life a little bit easier when you can spread it out and take advantage of the opportunity to get the run game. And efficiency is the key, make the most of the opportunity, and I think our runners really get it.”

But Mixon is paid as a three-down back when the Bengals aren’t using him as one, and they could likely sign two running backs at the expense of his annual salary.

There are also the aggravated menacing charges filed against Mixon earlier this month. Those charges have since been dismissed, but a Hamilton County prosecutor said they could be filed again in the future.

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There are valid arguments for releasing Mixon without the grievance being a factor, but the Bengals have time to do their own due diligence on the situation to determine what, if any, impact it will have on his future with the organization.

Michael Niziolek covers the Bengals Follow him on Twitter @michaelniziolek, click here for more coverage.

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