CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow has his big payday.
And, the Cincinnati Bengals have their quarterback and face of the franchise.
The Bengals have agreed to terms with Burrow on an 5-year, $275 million extension that includes $219.01 million guaranteed, sources tell ESPN. The deal makes him the highest paid player in NFL history, a well-earned deal for a player who has transformed Cincinnati’s franchise.
After Burrow suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee his rookie season, Cincinnati has thrived in his first two full seasons in the NFL. The Bengals won two division titles and reached consecutive AFC Championship Games, including the 2022 victory that yielded the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1989.
Here’s more context around Burrow’s contract, what it means for the Bengals and what’s next.
What does this mean for Burrow?
This establishes Burrow, 26, as the Bengals quarterback for the foreseeable future. This deal cements his status as the foundation on which the rest of the franchise will be built.
In December, when Burrow was asked about the window for the Bengals to win a championship, he quipped, “The window’s my whole career.” That sentiment has permeated the building, especially after the Bengals had one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history.
Cincinnati matched its high mark for most wins in a regular season (12) and had a dominating road victory against the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round before losing to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.
During the eight-game winning streak that stretched from Week 9 to the end of the regular season, Burrow completed 67.4% of his passes with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. In three of those games, his completion percentage over expectation was greater than 10%, according to ESPN Stats & Information, a reflection of his superb accuracy. Burrow, now entering his fourth year, currently holds the NFL record for the highest career completion percentage at 68.2%.
Can the Bengals keep other players including receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins?
The Bengals will have to account for Burrow’s contract when managing the salary cap for the foreseeable future.
In each of the past two seasons, Burrow has accounted for roughly 5% of the team’s total salary cap. That allowed Cincinnati and executive vice president Katie Blackburn, Bengals owner Mike Brown’s daughter and a longtime franchise administrator, to dole out big contracts over the past few offseasons, particularly on defense. In 2022, Cincinnati’s cap charge for defensive players was $101.2 million, the third highest in the NFL according to Roster Management System.
Burrow’s contract will impact Cincinnati’s ability to not only sign future free agents but keep existing stars. In August, Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson signed a four-extension worth up to $37.25 million. But Higgins, another member of the 2020 draft class, does not have a contract extension. Keeping him in the mix could prove to be very difficult.
The biggest question is how long Cincinnati will be able to keep Burrow, Higgins and Chase together. Chase, who was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021, has been prolific in his first two NFL seasons. Since entering the league, he’s sixth in total receiving yards and second in total receiving touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information. While the Bengals’ front office is anticipating the salary cap to continue to rise, Cincinnati must also account for the premium being placed on top receivers.
In 2022, the Kansas City Chiefs traded wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for five draft picks, including a first- and second-round selection. Hill then signed a $120 million contract with Miami, with an average of $30 million annually to become the highest paid receiver in the NFL.
With Chase and Higgins both producing at high levels, they could command lucrative salaries that were always going to make budgeting a challenge, even before Burrow’s new deal.
How long has this been in the works?
Burrow’s contract extension didn’t sneak up on anyone. It has been a topic of conversation dating back to last summer. After the Bengals reached the Super Bowl at the end of the 2021 season, Cincinnati’s first appearance in the title game in 33 years, Brown praised Burrow for his role in the franchise’s success. The longtime team executive also telegraphed he was preparing to pay Burrow handsomely.
“Right now, our obvious, most important issue will be with our quarterback,” Brown said in July 2021 when asked about the team’s upcoming contract negotiations. “It’s not quite ready or ripe yet but it’s right down the track. We see the train coming.”
As soon as the season ended, Bengals coach Zac Taylor noted contract discussions with Burrow were top of mind for the front office.
“That starts now internally,” Taylor said on Jan. 30, the day after Cincinnati’s season ended. “Just wrapped up with the team today and as you go forward, you get a chance to start talking about Joe and all the other players that are up (for new contracts).”
How does Burrow’s deal compare to other top QB contracts?
The draft class of 2020 played a big role in reshaping the quarterback market before the Bengals and Burrow reached a deal.
First, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts cashed in after leading his team to a Super Bowl berth. According to Roster Management System, Hurts’ deal is worth an average of $51 million annually with $180 million in guaranteed money.
A few weeks after that deal was negotiated in April, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson signed a contract extension that averaged $52 million a year. That held as the highest average in NFL history until late July, when the Los Angeles Chargers and Justin Herbert agreed to terms on his extension.
Herbert, who was drafted five spots after Burrow went to the Bengals No. 1 overall in 2020, was set to earn an average of $52.5 million annually on a five-year extension, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Despite lacking the playoff success of Hurts and Burrow, Herbert holds the honor as the only player to throw for more than 4,000 passing yards in each of his first three seasons.
Another deal to note is that of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. In 2020, Kansas City gave Mahomes $141 million in guaranteed money as part of a 10-year extension that could be worth up to $503 million. However, the deal is particularly team-friendly in that it’s laced with incentives and most of the yearly money is delivered in roster bonuses. In addition to a $10 million signing bonus, the recent Super Bowl champions built massive roster bonuses into the contract, with one reaching as high as $49 million in 2027.