Bengals release RB Joe Mixon, reach deal with former Ute Zack Moss

Utah’s all-time leading rusher is leaving the Indianapolis Colts to join Cincinnati

Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss (21) runs the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A move debated over the last 12 months finally reached a conclusion when the Cincinnati Bengals released veteran running back Joe Mixon on Monday after seven years with the club, according to team sources. The move came alongside the news of former Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss reaching a deal with the Bengals.

Mixon ranks third in franchise history in rushing yards, sixth in total touchdowns and second in carries.

Last year, he was third in the NFL in rushing attempts, carrying 257 times for 1,034 yards and 4 per carry — this after negotiating a paycut prior to the season to avoid being released. The new two-year deal included a $3 million roster bonus on March 17, forcing the team to make a decision on his future immediately rather than drag it out over the summer.

The Bengals opted to move on, saving $6.1 million on the cap while absorbing $2.75 million in dead money. Mixon, 27, joins a crowded class of veteran running backs in free agency and Cincinnati moves to Moss for more explosiveness in the running game.

Cincinnati drafted Chase Brown in the fifth round last season, then limited early usage and a hamstring injury derailed the first three months of his rookie year. After, however, he showed flashes of dynamic playmaking out of the backfield, including a 70-yard touchdown on a screen pass where he topped out as the second-fastest ball carrier in the NFL last year. The Bengals want to expand his role so the idea of keeping Mixon, who drew the vast majority of the workload, made less sense at his large cap figure ($8.9 million).

This freed the Bengals to sign Moss — the University of Utah’s all-time leading rusher — as a back with more burst to complement Brown. Mixon ranked near the bottom of the league in missed tackles forced per carry and elusive rating. He also was taken off the field on third down for the majority of his career, not viewed as a viable option as a passing-down back. The Bengals have ranked among the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL with Joe Burrow the last two seasons.

Moss will have to replace a player who led the club in rushing for seven consecutive seasons, tied for a franchise record.

The decision wasn’t a slam dunk with durability, energy and loyalty inside the building among the reasons the club considered sticking with the two-time captain.

“He’s always played a big role for us and been a durable guy for us and a physical runner for us and always been available,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He’s one of those guys — this last season it was him, Sam Hubbard, Josh Tupou and Tyler Boyd were the last four from when I walked into the building. I always look at Joe Mixon very fondly and appreciate everything that he does for us.”

Hubbard is the lone player still under contract from the Marvin Lewis era.

Perhaps a reunion could occur between Mixon and Lewis, now an assistant for Antonio Pierce with the Las Vegas Raiders. After all, it was Lewis and the Bengals that went out on a limb for Mixon drafting him in 2017. He was selected 48th overall, dropping down boards largely due to an incident caught on video of him striking Amelia Molitor in 2016. He settled a civil lawsuit with the victim before joining the Bengals.

Mixon stayed clear of issues off the field and thrived on it upon arriving in Cincinnati and even in a challenging positional market, the Bengals stood by him with a four-year, $48 million extension in 2020.

Off-field issues returned in 2023 when he was involved in two separate incidents. The first was a case where he was ruled not guilty of an aggravated menacing charge that occurred the weekend of a playoff game in Buffalo. The second was a shooting incident at his home that resulted in a still-pending civil lawsuit and charges against his sister and sister’s boyfriend.

Still, the Bengals continued the theme and stood by Mixon through those issues last year, bringing him back at the lower rate with a one-year extension opening up the possibility of hanging around for 2024.

Now, they’ve officially moved on.

Mixon leaves totaling more rushing yards and attempts than any of the backs from the much-ballyhooed class of 2017 where nine different running backs amassed at least 5,000 yards from scrimmage. Despite the immense workload, he fumbled just three times after his rookie year.

Brown, Moss, Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans are the running backs currently on the Bengals’ roster.

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