NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Joseph Maiorana / USA TODAY Sports

Joe Mixon is apparently willing to play ball. No, not simply on the field for the Cincinnati Bengals, but also at the negotiating table heading into the 2020 season. The former second-round pick is entering the final season of a four-year, $5.45 million rookie deal and is set to make just $1.2 million in base salary, that is unless he and the team can agree to terms on an extension -- something they've long begun working toward. The good news for the Bengals is Mixon is reportedly not looking to reset the running back market or land anywhere near it, per Tyler Dragon of The Cincinnati Enquirer, but is instead open to signing a new contract that could easily be viewed as an absolute steal when also factoring in his production and value to the organization. 

It's rumored Mixon is seeking only $8 million per year, and for perspective, that would make his second contract only $201,312 more expensive on average than Saquon Barkley's rookie contract, which averages $7.798 million annually. Considering Mixon is easily one of the best running backs in all of football, that's math the Bengals should jump all over. 

This is especially true given the fact he's delivered 2,888 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns in his last two seasons, despite being the entire focal point for opposing defenses as the Bengals floundered about due to poor quarterback play. Duke Tobin, the team's Director of Player Personnel, knows this all too well and isn't apt to see Mixon go strolling out of the door in the near future. 

"Joe [Mixon] is an important part of our team," Tobin said on Monday when asked about his star halfback's negotiations. "He's a piece that we'd like to get extended and have around here a long time. Typically, our extensions have gotten done during camp at some point."

With veterans having already reported to camp, that means a deal for Mixon could be rapidly speeding down the turnpike.

"I'm hoping for the best," Mixon said of contract talks earlier this offseason, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. "I'm all for it. But if they choose not to, then I got to go about it for what it is."

At this point, there's zero reason for the Bengals to play hardball. After all, with the Carolina Panthers setting an NFL record in by paying Christian McCaffrey an average of over $16 million per year, and the Tennessee Titans locking in Derrick Henry at roughly $12.5 million annually -- Mixon's production gives him enough leverage to request quite a bit more than what he's reportedly asking. 

That's not to say he can command more than Henry and certainly not more than McCaffrey, or even Ezekiel Elliott's at $15 million per season with the Dallas Cowboys, but a running back of his caliber actually willing to settle for numbers comparable to someone else's rookie deal would be a contractual coup for Cincinnati. The club has just over $25 million in cap space -- opt-out recoups notwithstanding -- and Mixon isn't looking to consume most of the pie. Add in the start of the Joe Burrow era and Mixon makes for a potent one-two punch if All-Pro wideout A.J. Green can remain healthy, giving the Bengals a great chance to get their shiny new Heisman-winning quarterback off to the races early in his career.

"[Mixon has] been a great player for us," added Tobin. "We want him around here. We know what he is. He came in and earned it. 

"He's a guy that we're proud of. Regardless of what's in the draft next year or what's in free [agency], we know that Joe's a piece that we want. We'll work to see if that can come together."

At that asking price, how can it not?