With a huge contract extension coming Joe Burrow’s way, how long can Cincy keep its core together? Let’s talk Bengals offseason narratives for 2023.
When the Cincinnati Bengals selected Joe Burrow No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, they surely believed that they had finally found a franchise quarterback that could get a losing franchise back on track both on and off the field. Not only had they gone 29 years without a playoff win; they finished dead last in attendance in 2019 after enduring four straight losing seasons with Andy Dalton under center.
It may be easy to have a chuckle at the jokes thrown Burrow and the Bengals’ way after smack-talking the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of Jan. 29’s AFC Championship regarding “Burrowhead Stadium,” but don’t get it twisted: Cincy’s title window is wide open as long as the star signal-caller is there (and the team just finished sixth in attendance this season besides).
Yes, things really are looking fine despite Sunday’s heartbreaking playoff loss in the dying seconds, something none of us could say just a few short years back.
That’s why the team’s top brass likely won’t hesitate to extend the 26-year-old LSU product as soon as he’s officially eligible at the end of the current league year. That immediately becomes priority No. 1 loud and clear — but a few other key moves need to be made for a team that’s approximately $44 million under next year’s salary cap as of this writing.
Let’s take a look at what that might entail for front office execs Katie Blackburn, Paul Brown Jr., and Duke Tobin for the 2023 offseason and beyond.
How Much Is in $tore For Joe?
Burrow has another season left on his rookie scale contract, plus a potential fifth-year option for 2024, but the Bengals are targeting this offseason to extend their superstar quarterback, per insider Ian Rapoport. The 26-year-old earned just $3.6 million in 2022 while playing like one of the best QBs in all of football.
Burrow, along with Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Herbert could very well reshape the QB market even more. Between hefty total contract values and/or heavily guaranteed money, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Deshaun Watson reshaped the market during the 2022 offseason.
This class of QBs is different and Burrow is at the forefront of it all.
By Spotrac’s estimates, Burrow’s first contract extension could be pegged at six years and $264,002,724; that would rank No. 2 in NFL history by total value behind only Patrick Mahomes. His average annual salary is projected at $44,000,454 which would rank sixth all-time — one spot ahead of Josh Allen and one behind Mahomes.
To be clear, a small-market franchise like the Bengals can very much afford to keep Burrow, and not just due to his on-field success; consider his impact on the team’s business via attendance, sponsorships, jersey and merch sales, and national TV exposure as well.
Joe Burrow secured the bag long ago. Now the question is: how big will an extension be? By market estimates, his first extension could be worth 6 years, $261,887,832.— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 23, 2023
That would rank No. 2 in terms of total value across the NFL.@boardroomhttps://t.co/4LqomKPgCa
Ja’Marr’s Extension Chase
Burrow and former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase are arguably the best QB-WR duo in all of football, and the Bengals still have them both on rookie deals. Chase, who was drafted fifth overall in 2021, isn’t extension-eligible just yet, but he will be following the 2023 season.
The importance here? This team needs to start planning out cap space for both Burrow and Chase for the long haul. The 22-year-old wideout is already pegged to earn an annual salary of upwards of $25 million per year on his next deal — and he’s only two seasons into his NFL career with a ceiling that can only get higher. This isn’t a priority now, but it will be in just a year’s time. The team needs to game all this out now.
Tee Higgins: The Odd Man Out?
This is where things get a bit complicated.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins only adds to Cincinnati’s case for having the league’s most lethal weapons in the passing game, but he’ll also come at a hefty price in 2024, as the market shows that Higgins should bring in at least $80.59 million over four years.
The Bengals’ Options on Tee Higgins’ Future:
- Extend him now before he gets even more expensive.
- Don’t extend and let him test free agency after the 2023 season, potentially walking away for nothing.
- Find a trade partner willing to give up draft assets to land him and extend him.
- Franchise-tag him after the 2023 season and kick the extension can down the road.
One year ago, the Titans were willing to trade away AJ Brown rather than pay him the four years and $100 million he immediately got from the Eagles, so don’t assume the Bengals are guaranteed to keep him around even if they want to.
Big Ugly Cap Numbers
During the 2022 offseason, the Bengals added allocated $29.9 million (14.1% of their total cap) to the offensive line with four new additions. It didn’t always work this past season; Burrow was sacked five times in the AFC Championship and 51 times during the regular season — fifth-most among all QBs. They ought to hope continuity pays dividends, because that 14.1% cap allocation increases to approximately 18.97% with all of the big uglies returning next season.
Elsewhere, a few other position groups stand to be affected by free agency, presenting a few more key decisions for the front office:
Key Bengals Free Agents
- S Jessie Bates
- S Vonn Bell
- TE Hayden Hurst
- CB Eli Apple
- LB Germaine Pratt
- RB Samaje Perine
- TE Drew Sample
- CB Tre Flowers
A Final Note on the Bengals
These guys are just getting started and the championship window shall remain open for as long as they can keep this core together, but they will soon longer be playing with house money in the form of rookie contracts. As a result, expect the Bengals to be among the top spenders in the league against the cap once their top stars’ extensions are signed and kick in starting around 2024.
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