Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow single-handedly transformed a franchise from a perpetual cellar-dweller at the bottom of the NFL standings to a Super Bowl contender in each of the last two years.
While expectations were high for Burrow, coming off one of the best seasons in college football history, many still didn’t forecast long-term success for the Bengals. One of the most cash-strapped organizations in the NFL didn’t have a track record of success in its history, putting Burrow in a hole to start his NFL career.
- Joe Burrow contract: $11.535 million in 2023, 2024 fifth-year option
Now two years removed from an ACL tear in his rookie season, Burrow is in his second consecutive AFC Championship Game. He has slayed some of the best quarterbacks in the playoffs and when the 2022 season comes to an end, Burrow deserves to be the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Related: Highest-paid quarterbacks in NFL
The value of saving the Cincinnati Bengals franchise
Before drafting Burrow, the Bengals’ franchise was a rudderless ship. Cincinnati had one of the worst stadiums in the NFL with no indoor practice facility. Forbes estimated the Bengals as the least valuable franchise in the NFL before the 2020 season, capturing the business perspective of the club perfectly.
- Cincinnati Bengals franchise value (2020): $2 billion
From the perspective of players, no one wanted to play for the Bengals before Burrow’s arrival. In a 2019 Sports Illustrated poll of NFL agents. Cincinnati was voted as the third-worst NFL city for players, second once the Raiders left Oakland.
“It’s just a poorly run, low-budget organization.”Anonymous NFL agent on the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019 (Sports Illustrated)
Players, agents and NFL analysts viewed the Bengals’ operations as ‘cheap’ and it was reflected in the smallest scouting department in football, with even fewer scouts than some college teams. It’s no surprise that this was one of the worst teams in the league since the Bengals launched their franchise in 1967.
Before Burrow defeated the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card Round of the 2021 NFL playoff, the Bengals went 31 years without a playoff victory. A franchise that joined the NFL in the same year Terry Bradshaw was drafted has as many playoff wins with Burrow as it did in the organization’s history before him.
|Games||Wins||Losses||Win %||Playoff Wins|
|Cincinnati Bengals record (w/o Burrow)||807||361||446||.455||5 (19 games)|
|Joe Burrow’s career record||42||24||17||.571||5 (6 games)|
Forbes estimated the Bengals’ franchise value in 2022 at $3 billion, before Burrow took them on another deep postseason run with a depleted offensive line.
Burrow’s impact on the Bengals made them a perennial Super Bowl contender, influenced ownership to finally spend on an indoor practice facility and the franchise value skyrocketed because of him. All of that alone merits one of the largest contracts in the history of sports.
Joe Burrow stats comparison to his peers
Becoming one of the highest-paid players in the NFL is just as much about timing as it is about production. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson all signed record-setting deals in large part because they had significant leverage over their teams and utilized the market.
Mahomes, Allen and Murray each signed contract extensions in the first years they became eligible. While Mahomes still has the largest contract in NFL history, he now ranks fourth in average annual value (AAV), while Allen ranks fifth in total guarantees ($150 million) and Murray is second ($189.5 million) behind Watson.
|Contract AAV (2022)||QB Rating||YPA||TD-INT||W-L||Playoff W-L|
|Aaron Rodgers||$50.271 million||101.4||7.3||63-16||21-12||1-2|
|Russell Wilson||$48.516 million||92.9||7.5||41-17||10-19||N/A|
|Josh Allen||$43.005 million||94.2||7.2||71-29||24-9||2-2|
|Kyler Murray||$46.1 million||94.6||7.1||38-17||12-13||0-1|
|Patrick Mahomes||$45 million||101.8||7.7||78-25||26-8||3-1|
|Deshaun Watson||$46 million||104.5||8.3||40-12||7-15||1-2|
|Joe Burrow||$9.047 million||104.2||8.1||69-26||22-10||5-1|
Burrow’s track record speaks for itself. He went head-to-head three times with Mahomes over the last two seasons and beat him, including once in the AFC Championship Game. He outplayed Allen in the 2022 AFC Divisional Round matchup and his two-year stretch outpaces what Rodgers, Murray and Watson have accomplished and they have losing records in the postseason.
Now that Burrow is eligible for a contract extension this summer, it’s time for him to become the next quarterback who resets the market.
Projecting a Joe Burrow contract extension
Thanks to new sources of revenue, the 2023 NFL salary cap is projected to exceed $220 million. Given the NFL enjoys record-setting revenue each year, it’s no surprise that clubs anticipate it skyrocketing with each new season.
While signing a Mahones-like contract for 10 years would guarantee that Burrow becomes the first $500 million player in NFL history, it’s not realistic. The former No. 1 overall pick can follow in the footsteps of his peers, signing a multi-year extension that lets him test the market in his prime.
Burrow could take the approach being used by Lamar Jackson, which first paid off nicely for Kirk Cousins. Playing out the rookie contract followed by the fifth-year option, as with Jackson, would allow Burrow to become eligible for free agency in 2025. After that, he could decide to play on the exclusive franchise tag for consecutive years then become an unrestricted free agent.
While there are some advantages behind that strategy, the risks might not justify the potential reward for a player who is already 26 years old in his third season. So, negotiating an extension now with the Cincinnati Bengals becomes the best option.
Joe Burrow contract prediction
- Years: 5
- Total Value: $260 million
- Contrat AAV: $52 million
- Total Guarantees: $200 million
- Signing Bonus: $70 million