CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow sat down in front of the media Tuesday for the first time since his second straight Super Bowl bid failed a drive in Kansas City.
The subject of the offseason will continue to be the richest contract pending in NFL history – a franchise-defining document that shapes everyone’s future, even tangentially.
Like most moments on the pitch, he knew what was coming. Also, like most moments on the pitch, he had a direct and effective plan of attack.
“I’m involved,” Burrow said at the first mention of his impending expansion. “It’s in progress.”
The quarterback with an impeccable Q rating to match his equally impeccable QB rating knew how he wanted to handle one of the most complicated off-court businesses of his life. Like the Bengals do: quietly.
“It’s not really something I like to air in the media,” he said. “It’s something, just the way I think they want to do business, I want to do business. We prefer to keep that between us.
In their own way, the Bengals and Burrow are working purposefully behind the scenes to maintain this unprecedented streak of success for as long as possible. Director of player personnel Duke Tobin pointed out during the scouting meeting that the part of the contract discussion with Burrow only served as the final confirmation of why he was the No. 1 pick. of their dreams.
“Joe sees the bigger picture,” Tobin said. “That’s what makes it great.”
The complicated picture – with Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase in the background – comes into sharp focus.
Bengals take advantage of star volunteering to put work on contract talks
“I’m pretty clear about what I want in the contract and what I think is best for me and for the team,” Burrow said. “So we’re on track for that to happen.”
The contract has long been felt as a fatality. Along with Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson in the bank, Justin Herbert and Burrow are part of the collection of mega-extensions planned to reset the booming quarterback market. It happens.
Basically, Burrow said what every Bengals fan should want to hear: don’t worry, I got it.
“Yeah, it’s definitely whenever you have guys on the team that need to be paid, that’s always on your mind,” Burrow said. “You want it to be a focal point and so we’re working to make that happen.”
He cares about winning. He cares about keeping as many weapons around him as possible. He values them along the way.
“You have to have good players,” Burrow said. “It doesn’t matter how good your quarterback is. If you don’t have good players around him, you won’t have a very good team.
An oft-repeated political axiom applies here: don’t tell me what you like, show me your budget. Inevitably, the contract will specify to what extent this contractual reflection is transformed into contractual calculation.
However, with Burrow, there is an inherent belief because he never broke public trust.
The common theme on Tuesday was that this negotiation will not be a controversial cash grab. It won’t drag and distract like Jackson’s ordeal did across the AFC North. As with any business decision, the tone may change by a penny (or, in this case, 2.5 billion of them), but the path to executing a plan that works for both parties and Winning values along the way does more than create flexibility for future spending.
It sends a message that resonates in the locker room – specifically around 10 lockers under numbers 5 and 1.
“It means he wants to win,” Chase said. “He knows what he has to do to win and he wants to win. He’s a guy who wins. He’s not a quarterback who’s always interested in the money and everything. He just wants to win, and that’s what matters most about Joe.
Like all aspects of Bengals football, Burrow sets an example for the franchise. In the huddle. In the meeting room. In the community. Lifting weights. And, yes, even in the structuring of his contract.
“It means a lot to have a leader like him watching over guys like us,” Higgins said. “Obviously we’re talking about staying together for the long term. Hopefully we can do that and negotiate something where they can keep the three of us.
Whether Higgins, Chase and Burrow all fit into the bigger puzzle remains to be seen. For now, knowing that Burrow has the rest of the team in mind is enough to explain the generally harmonious mood despite a team swimming in difficult business decisions.
Whatever concessions or structures Burrow ends up with in his lucrative deal won’t matter as much to the future success of the franchise as the bigger point that winning and relationships matter more. here because they matter more to Burrow.
That doesn’t mean other players passing through Cincinnati need to take less or structure themselves in a way that encourages ownership. No way. Jessie Bates last year is a prime example. His dealings with the Bengals got hairy and personal. He didn’t show up for the offseason program or didn’t sign his franchise tag until halfway through camp. But the team didn’t let Bates check emotionally or mentally. Burrow took an off-season trip with him for a UFC fight in Las Vegas, with veteran cornerback Chidobe Awuzue. They kept him close despite the cases pushing him away. Bates ended up enjoying a solid season, setting a career high in interceptions and landing his deserved contract in Atlanta last March.
The priority of winning and relationships in the locker room trumped the pettiness of business. It doesn’t have to be good for the Bengals. The message sent by Burrow, as Tobin pointed out, insists on understanding the big picture.
Inside the Bengals draft: The details that sold an easy investment in character and fit
Win games and everyone gets paid. Win the first championship in Bengals history, mark the immortality of the franchise.
Burrow made everything easier in Cincinnati. Drawing fans. Sell goods. Winning games. Instill belief.
In this case, the Terrier effect strikes again. A contract like this will shape the organization’s championship window over the next half-decade, however, heads remain as cold as an audible terrier on third and fourth.
Everything is calm, Burrow is involved. He has a plan.
(Top photo: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)