With an eye to making their third straight playoff appearance, the Bengals on Friday re-structured the contract of running back Joe Mixon in the hopes he'll pad his numbers as the franchise's all-time leading postseason rusher.
As the Bengals prepare for their first training camp practice on July 26, they continue their efforts to keep together the team that has been to the last two AFC title games and is the two-time defending AFC North champions. While a potential contract extension for quarterback Joe Burrow grabs the headlines, the Bengals made sure they retained one of his biggest weapons, one of their most productive players ever and one of the most popular players in head coach Zac Taylor's locker room.
Peter Schaffer, Mixon's agent and a veteran NFL rep who counts Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders as a client and first worked a deal with the Bengals five years before Mixon was born, knows the immense challenges of roster building in the 30 years of the salary cap era.
"More than anything in his career, Joe wants to win a Super Bowl," Schaffer says. "He loves the Bengals. He loves Cincinnati. He knows they're one of the few teams that have a chance to win it all. He's a team guy first and we wanted to make sure we got a deal that was good for everyone."
Each time he met the media this spring, Zac Taylor insisted Mixon, a captain and one of the team leaders he values as much as playmakers, would be with the team he joined in 2017 as a second-rounder out of Oklahoma.
"I think we've got a great relationship with Joe," Taylor said back in late May. "I've appreciated how he's come into the building every single day and just worked hard.
"He's a guy I enjoy being around and we're counting on him."
He's not only a bubbly locker room presence, but he's also a soothing figure in a backfield that lost veteran Samaje Perine to free agency, leaving just 64 career NFL snaps between Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans. The Bengals have high hopes for fifth-rounder Chase Brown, a speedy home-run back out of Illinois, but Mixon's 1,314 regular-season carries and 425 playoff yards bring some spectacular stability. The man who bruised the Bills on a snowy field with 105 yards on 20 carries in January's AFC Divisional win in Buffalo hasn't fumbled since Dec. 5, 2021. During the span of his NFL career, Mixon has rushed for the league's fifth most yards and only Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott have more carries.
Although his carries (292-210) and his yards (1,205-814) dipped last season, he quietly energized Burrow's pass game with 60 catches, the most ever in a season by a Bengals back. And he had some huge days, headlined by his clutch outing against the Bills and his franchise-record five touchdowns in a Paycor Stadium rout of the Panthers. Mixon bolted for four rushing touchdowns and completed his day with an amazing pirouette for a toe-tapping touchdown catch that made him the third player in the Super Bowl era with at least four rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in a game.
Turning 27 two days before training camp opens, Mixon's seventh season figures to be one long climb up the Bengals' all-time lists. With 622 yards he'll become just the third Bengal to rush for 6,000 career yards behind Corey Dillon (8,061) and James Brooks (6,447). On his 128th carry of the season, he'll have 1,442 career carries, more than anybody in Bengals history but Dillon's 1,865. With a yearly average of 896 yards on 219 carries, the milestones are well in reach.
With 5,378 yards, Mixon needs just 44 to pass Pete Johnson into fourth place on the club's all-time rushing list behind Dillon, Brooks and Rudi Johnson (5,742). He is already one of four Bengals with three or more 1,000-yard rushing seasons with Dillon, Brooks, Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson. Another 1,000-yarder would be his fourth and only Dillon (six) would have more.