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Mixon on possible deal: 'I want to be a Bengal for life'

With the close of the 2019 season, 2017 draft picks can officially start discussing possible extensions with their clubs.

With one season left on his contract, Joe Mixon represents an interesting case. The Cincinnati Bengals running back plowed down the stretch of the season and showed he could be a force on the ground. Paying running backs, however, is always a tricky prospect in the NFL.

For his part, despite early-season struggles, Mixon doesn't want to flee Cincinnati.

"I want to be a Bengal for life," Mixon said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I haven't really thought about an extension. Right now is definitely the time to start getting into it. I don't know much about the extension part. I just have to go in and hopefully, we work something out. I just wish for the best. The ball is in their court, not mine."

At the midway point of the 2019 season, the smart money would have guessed Mixon would have been angling to get out of Cincinnati ASAP. The Bengals struggled to use the running back, couldn't get him in space at all. Through eight games, he earned just 320 rushing yards and zero TDs on 101 attempts. The AFC's leading rusher in 2018 seemed an afterthought and was visibly frustrated after a 10-carry, 2-yard rushing performance in a Week 7 loss to Jacksonville.

Then came the Week 9 bye. Following the week off, head coach Zac Taylor finally realized underutilizing your most talented healthy weapon could be considered a criminal offense.

Through the final eight weeks, Mixon earned 177 carries for 817 rushing yards (4.6 YPC) and five TDs. Over that stretch, he generated four games of 110-plus yards rushing, including galloping all over the Browns for 163 yards in Sunday's finale.

The close to the season moved Mixon from frustrated to thrilled with the coaching staff, particularly offensive line coach Jim Turner.

"I feel like he did a hell of a job from Day 1 to what he's done within the last eight weeks," Mixon said. "Him and (head coach Zac Taylor) creating things and getting schemes to where we can be effective running the football. I think they did a hell of a job. Coach Turner, I built that relationship to where I can go up to him, and I think my word and feedback helps."

The Bengals still underutilized Mixon in the passing game. Giving the RB just 45 targets (35 catches) doesn't do justice to his ability to burn linebackers and safeties in open space.

If Taylor is to improve on his first season in Cincy, Mixon needs to be a focal point of the offense, especially with a potential rookie QB (likely Joe Burrow) at the helm.

"At the end of the day, man, I love being here," Mixon told ESPN. "I love our fans. I love (the) fan base, I love the coaches and I love the upstairs people. They've been nothing but great to me."

For a player that fell to the second round in the 2017 draft due to an assault charge during college after video showed him punching a woman, he's found a home in Cincinnati.

The Bengals would be smart to lock up the running back soon if they can get him to ink a long-term contract for lower than top-of-the-market deals other RB have sought in recent seasons.

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