On the surface, backup running back Samaje Perine now off the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster is everything Joe Mixon could want. However, if he doesn’t have a breakout or convincing enough year, the Bengals will wave bye-bye to their 2017 second-round pick just as fast as they brought him in.
But why? Mixon restructured his contract in the offseason.
Behind the scenes, Cincinnati’s message was simple: restructure or take a walk.
Mixon’s salary cap hit went from $12.8 million to $8.5 million, now giving him the 11th-highest hit on the team instead of the third, according to Spotrac. This also gives him just more than $4 million in guaranteed money as a signing bonus.
Why does this matter?
Cincinnati doesn’t pay dead weight.
The most dead money in recent years has been just more than $5 million, awarded to Geno Atkins in 2019, according to Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic. The next highest sat at $5 million on the nose and $2.8 million. With his original contract, had the Bengals cut Mixon, the team would owe $5.5 million in dead cap, the most since 2019.
Instead, his new deal drops him down to a $2.8 mark after the 2023-24 season with a potential contract out, making “it easy for the Bengals to move on,” Dehner Jr. writes.
Cincinnati did Mixon a favor by making him its lead back after favoring the now-Denver Bronco product Perine toward the end of last season. But it also sent the “Prove It” message to Mixon in doing so.
Why does this matter in fantasy football?
NFL teams with workhorse running backs are getting phased out, making it harder to secure points in fantasy football at the position. A keen playing strategy is to find players on contract seasons to implement into your team because, in theory, they are going the extra mile to prove they deserve a new contract.
According to The Wolf’s 2023 Fantasy Rankings, “Mixon leaves the draft unscathed, with Samaje Perine gone, and with a newly-firm endorsement from his head coach, we might get true three-down horse upside as they ride him out into the sun.”
Do you want someone fighting for a job or someone who just got a contract extension, that if they don’t move the chains or break the plane they could shrug and go, “there’s always next week.”
Mixon finished with nine total touchdowns (seven rushing) and 814 rushing yards (1,255 total). However, four of those scores came in Week 9 vs Carolina. From weeks 11-18, he scored once.
Perine scored five of his six touchdowns on the season after Week 9.
Digging even deeper, Denver is unsure if starter Javonte Williams (torn ACL) will be ready for the beginning of the regular season. So, the Broncos found a back capable of handling starter duties in free agency, ultimately landing on Perine. Denver once successfully managed the tandem of Williams and Melvin Gordon, and a similar scenario of Williams and Perine could be in the cards. If that’s not a knock to Mixon, I don’t know what is.
The Bengals have the 15th toughest schedule this season, according to CBSSports. After its Week 7 bye, Cincinnati will see the 49ers, Bills, Ravens, and Jaguars in four of its next six games, with three of those matchups on the road, in its most challenging stretch of the season.
The Wolf projects Mixon to rush for over 1,100 yards, add 60 receptions, and find the end zone 11 times. Mixon could truly be a steal at his current RB17 ADP.