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Trey Hendrickson’s Trade Request Is Understandable. It’s Also a Massive Waste of Time.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a Cincinnati Bengal with the initials TH wants out.  No, it’s not Tee Higgins (although that dilemma is still ongoing).  As of yesterday, Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson has requested a trade from Cincinnati due to the team’s reluctance to give him the long-term deal he desires.  Here we go again…

Let’s get the easy part out of the way: the Bengals are not going to be trading Hendrickson.  In fact, his situation mirrors Higgins’ closely.  A productive player wants long-term security, the team wants said player to honor the contract he signed.  Sounds simple – and it is.

Still, this trade request is noteworthy because of how phenomenal Hendrickson has been since arriving in Cincinnati in 2021, and how difficult the prospect of replacing him appears to be.  The Bengals did select defensive end Myles Murphy in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft, but he has 3.0 career sacks to his name, or almost six times fewer than the 17.5 Hendrickson claimed in 2023, which placed him second in the NFL.  Murphy could still turn into a good pro, but right now, that’s all projection.  Hendrickson is all production.

But projection is exactly why the Bengals are (rightfully) reluctant to give Hendrickson the big deal he wants.  That, and technically, he isn’t eligible for a pay raise over the next two seasons because he (questionably) agreed to a contract extension before the 2023 season that will keep him in Stripes until 2025.  The Bengals rarely give out hefty contracts to players on the wrong side of 30, and with Hendrickson signed on for two more seasons, they aren’t obligated to. This is all a bit technical, so allow NFLPA certified agent Jesse James to explain it for you:

The gist is this: Hendrickson’s timing is incredibly poor.  His leverage is basically zero.  He should be blaming his agent, not the Bengals.

One way or another – unless Hell freezes over – Hendrickson will be in Cincinnati for Week One.  Training camp is probably a no-go, but mark my words, he’ll come around eventually.  He has to.  Outside of retirement (which he has apparently threatened), there really isn’t another option, and at 29-years-old and just entering his prime, Hendrickson would be mad to forgo potentially tens of millions of dollars just to prove a point.

Still, it’s not like Hendrickson doesn’t deserve a raise.  He’s one of the best pass rushers in the league, but he’s playing on a contract that pays him like he’s just an above-average starter.  When Jonathan Greenard can get four years, $76 million from the Houston Texans, it’s easy to see how Hendrickson could be getting a little green with envy.  But last year was his opportunity to hold the Bengals' feet over the fire – now, it’s too little, too late.

The bigger question is whether Hendrickson’s and Higgins’ trade requests this offseason a sign of something broken in the Bengals front office, and I just don’t think that’s the case.  This is all procedural.  NFL players and their agents are taking a page out of the NBA’s book and are trying to force results instead of playing the long game. It would be understandable if it weren’t such a complete waste of time.

These kinds of tactics work in the NBA because one player can make such an outsized impact on wins and losses.  The 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers were championship-contenders with LeBron James.  When he left for Miami the following year, they were the worst team in the league.  You just don’t see that kind of drop-off when NFL teams lose key players.

This isn’t to say Hendrickson isn’t valuable – he is.  He was the Bengals only consistently effective pass rusher last year, and even though they added stud defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the offseason, the rest of the Bengals pass rush options are uninspiring.  But he isn’t a particularly effective run defender, and with the NFL Draft tonight expected to be heavy with quarterbacks and receivers taken early in the first-round, the Bengals have an opportunity to select his future replacement – and that’s before taking Murphy and his sky-high potential into account.

Maybe the combination of Hendrickson’s and Higgins’ trade requests could embolden other Bengals to follow suit, but that too seems unlikely.  It’s far more common to see players trying to move Heaven and Earth to play with a superstar QB like Joe Burrow than players angling for a way out.  As long as Burrow is around, the Bengals will remain an appealing destination.  It won’t be long until Hendrickson and Higgins (and their agents) realize this as well.

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