Joe Mixon, who says he's got at least five years in the tank, wants to spend them all in Cincinnati. That should give him plenty of gas to reach one of his goals and pass Corey Dillon and James Brooks to become the Bengals all-time leading rusher.
Brooks, one of the first of the mighty mite Pro Bowl backs who could also be a Pro Bowl receiver during the '80s, is in his corner. He told Mixon so before a practice at this week's training camp.
"You don't find that many guys that can run the ball, take the pounding, plus catch the ball and block, and he can do all that," says Brooks, who turns 65 later this year.
He really should be on an AARP cover because he looks like he did when he went to four Pro Bowls as one the most versatile running backs ever. Think Marshall Faulk 20 years before Marshall Faulk.
"I think (Mixon is) a heck of a back. I like his versatility," Brooks says. "I told him, 'Keep doing what you're doing. Believe in yourself. Because I believe in you.'"
Mixon, who turned 27 last week, believes he can eclipse Dillon's 8,061 and Brooks' 6,447 yards. And with 5,378 of his own, he can move past Brooks this year with a replica of his 1,168-yard season in 2018 that won the AFC rushing title. That would come a year after he broke the club record for most catches by a running back once held by Brooks and later Giovani Bernard.
"I remember Corey when he was with the Patriots," Mixon says. "It's great to be able to be in the same conversation with these guys. I have nothing but appreciation for the way he ran the ball."
When asked if expects a bigger role without his close friend and long-time backup Samaje Perine, Mixon recalls 2021. When the Bengals went to the Super Bowl and he was named to the Pro Bowl with a career-high 1,205 yards on a career-high 294 carries.
"Look at the year we went to the Super Bowl. That's literally what you'll see this year. If not more. You'll see more," says Mixon, who has just 64 NFL carries behind him on the roster."But I've always had a big role in this offense. That will never change. At least while I'm here. But at the same time, I'll just try to be the best player out there. To help my team win."
He also wants all the Bengals rushing records. Plus, the touchdown record. He's 20 shy of the 70 racked up by another big back, Pete Johnson. He shakes his head at the CW that drones about an NFL running back's best years are behind him at say, age 28 or 30.
"That's all a myth. With the type of game that we play today, it's not nowhere the wear and tear," Mixon says. "It's a physical game now, don't get me wrong. But it's nowhere near how it used to be back in the day. Just try to do whatever I can one week at a time, one game at a time. One touch at a time. With a little bit of luck on my side, God being there on my side, the sky's the limit for it."
Mixon wants to make the whole run in Cincinnati. "Not many guys play for just one team. I want to be that person."
That person is not exactly a creaky 27. Last week in the first days of training camp he consistently had among the fastest GPS times on the field in the 21 mile-per-hour range. If Joe Burrow is the Prince of Paycor, then Mixon is the Mayor of Mehring Way with that kinetic personality that flows to fans and teammates.
Mixon put on his man-of-the-people skills at last Saturday's Paycor open house. Lofting a football into the stands and getting it back. Racing 70 yards to the end zone after a handoff and launching himself into the first row of fans. Stopping to chat and wave before heading into the tunnel.
But go through the tunnel to the night before and you'll see the post-practice spread Mixon ordered from Fuji Steakhouse. It was for the offense, but everyone from scrambling equipment guys to a hungry scribe were welcome to break into the boxes. He'll do something like that every few weeks "to spread the love."
"He's the best teammate I've had on all three levels," says new Bengals left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who came into Oklahoma with Mixon in 2014.
"Amazing guy. Dynamic runner. Very underrated when it comes to catching the ball," Brown says. "That's something that stuck out for him even when we were in school coming in together. Just how much energy he has daily. How much he loves the game. He has a real appreciation for life as well."
And Mixon says he appreciates life here and that's why he wants to stick around.
"One, it fits me. I love the community here I've been here since I was 20 years old," Mixon says. "The city has embraced me. My teammates do the same. Same with ownership. If there's a place where I would want to stay for my whole career, it's here."
In Bengals president Mike Brown, Mixon has found a guy who believes in loyalty as much as he does.
"All I'm trying to do is be the best investment for him in return and do whatever I can to be there and get his first Super Bowl," Mixon says.
So the decision to re-structure his deal a week before camp came down to more than the bottom line. There was Mike Brown. And Joey B., too.
"I see the bigger picture. I see the task at hand and what we're trying to build and in order to keep other players here and pieces here, sometimes you have to sacrifice," Mixon says. "I felt like this year was the year to sacrifice on the Super Bowl team we can potentially be.
"That was my stance on it. We agreed on a number with great compensation this year with the incentives. Off my last deal, I feel like they allowed me to work to be able to make that money back. That's cool. I'll go work for it."
He knows the declining running back market was an issue, but he hopes he's around long enough to see that change, too. He was on the call last week discussing the issue with some of the league's top running backs. But that's all he'll say.
"Hopefully, with the union and players, we'll try to do whatever we can to uplift that market," he says.
But for now there are other numbers to occupy him.
The analytics say Mixon and the Bengals need to be better against the light boxes deployed to defend Burrow's long ball. After working with offensive line coach and run game coordinator Frank Pollack, Orlando Brown senses that is an emphasis.
"Frank Pollack does an amazing job putting our running backs and playmakers in one-on-one positions," Orlando Brown says. "The way we're going to be scheming people up, the boxes, the coverages we'll see, the way people will have to defend us, it's going to force teams to play us in those types of situations. Joe Mixon is going to be in a lot of one-on-one situations in the run game and pass game. Hopefully we get him All Pro."
There are salary figures and light box data that could land a man on the moon. But Mixon is looking at numbers more like this:
With 622 yards he'll become just the third Bengal to rush for 6,000 career yards behind Dillon and Brooks. 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 in 2023.
But he's thinking way beyond.
"I want to be No. 1 and I think I can get there," says Mixon of his favorite number.