CINCINNATI — The deal is FINALLY done.
Joe Burrow went over all the details Saturday morning after the club’s final walkthrough and meetings and before hopping on a bus for a charter flight to Cleveland.
He then put pen to paper on a $275 million extension, with $219.01 million guaranteed and a record average annual value of $55 million starting in 2025 and running through 2029. The highest-paid player in NFL history – for now – is the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I work really hard to perform well on the field and think a lot about how I handle myself and how I can be the best me for this organization,” Burrow told me. “And so to be rewarded for that, it means a lot to me, but (there’s) a lot more to do.”
“I think it’s an exciting day for everybody,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “A very well deserved day for Joe. He’s a guy that’s represented everything we want to be about, and that’s on the field as a football player that’s in the locker room as a teammate that’s in the classroom as a student of the game. That’s as a voice of this organization and this whole state of Ohio. So proud to be sitting here next to him today. He’s earned this.”
At the Saturday morning press conference inside Paycor, Burrow was sporting his Athens t-shirt for a second straight day because he didn’t know if he was signing on Friday. Why?
“I wanted to make sure I wore this shirt ’cause this is kind of where it all started,” Burrow said.
Is Burrow going to splurge on something?
“I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about is is trying to find a way to win on Sunday. I guess now I can just see something online and buy it. So maybe whatever that’s gonna be. I don’t know yet. Whatever catches my eye.”
You can’t buy a Super Bowl ring. You have to earn it. And Burrow has proven he’s more than willing to put in the work to earn whatever comes his way, starting with the season opener Sunday in Cleveland.
“You’re the highest paid for amount in a certain amount of time until the next person breaks it and you get the contract, try to do as good for yourself as you can and then continue about your business. So we’re all about winning here. We’re about winning Super Bowls winning and you can’t do that without winning games. So we’re gonna take it one week at a time and continue that process.”
After his perfect 15-0 national championship season that featured a Heisman Trophy win at LSU, Burrow has started 42 career regular-season games for the Bengals and owns single-season franchise records for passing attempts (606; ‘22), completions (414; ‘22), passing yards (4611; ’21), TD passes (35; ’22), and passer rating (108.3; ’21). Regarded for his pinpoint accuracy and ability to pick apart defensive coverages, Burrow enters his fourth season in 2023 as the NFL’s all-time leader in career completion percentage (68.2; minimum 1500 attempts).
Entering 2023, he is the most accurate passer in NFL history.
Burrow was selected to his first Pro Bowl and voted the FedEx Air Player of the Year in 2022, when he tied for second in the league in TD passes while ranking second in completion percentage (68.3), fifth in completions, fifth in passing yards (4475) and sixth in passer rating (100.8).
"I work really hard for this organization so to be rewarded for that means a lot to me. But there's a lot more to do." Joe Burrow pic.twitter.com/m5R8Oski2j
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 9, 2023
He eclipsed several career milestones at a historic rate last season, as he tied for the third-fastest QB in NFL history to reach 10,000 passing yards (36 games), became the fifth-fastest to reach 75 TD passes (40), and tied for the second-fastest to reach 1000 completions (41 games). Burrow is the first QB in NFL history to be drafted No. 1 overall and reach a conference title game multiple times within his first three seasons.
Those are gaudy numbers but Burrow is more about his roots than anything – and thanking those close to him for making this day possible.
He thanked his parents who took care of him so he didn’t have to work an extra job as a kid and he could focus on the sport he loved. He thanked his teammates whom he loves working with every day. He thanked people like Zac Taylor for his organization and preparation that made his first three NFL seasons so groundbreaking.
He not only thanked Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn and the Brown family, he admired all the work she had to put in to make Saturday a reality.
“Katie was awesome,” Burrow said. “She does a lot behind the scenes for this organization that nobody ever hears about. The Brown family is very instrumental in what we do here and they don’t like the spotlight. That’s how they want it. But to shed a little light on that, they’ve done a lot for this community, done a lot for me, done a lot for this team, done a lot for Zac and so I’m eternally grateful to them, excited that I get to work with them for the next seven years, and hopefully a lot longer.”
To Burrow’s point, the Blackburns and Browns have always eschewed attention. They just would rather have the team’s performance and its stars (and social media) do the talking. The only people at Saturday’s presser were Taylor and Burrow. And that’s just fine by Katie, Troy and Mike.
Joe Burrow praises the work and the dedication of Katie Blackburn and the Brown family getting this massive extension done. "She does a lot behind the scene for this organization that nobody ever hears about" pic.twitter.com/wo404yXwkx
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 9, 2023
“Today’s announcement continues the team’s efforts toward investing in our talented players and investing in our future,” said Blackburn in a statement. “Joe has come in and immediately established himself as a winner and a leader, and the team is excited to continue building a strong program under Coach Taylor.”
“My father always said that in the NFL, the quarterback is like the key to your car,” said Bengals President Mike Brown, referring to franchise patriarch Paul Brown. “You can have a great car, but you need a key to get the car going and to operate it at a high level. We feel that we have a good one in Joe.
“Our franchise has been fortunate to have many good quarterbacks over the years, starting with Greg Cook and now running through Joe. Half a dozen Pro Bowl quarterbacks have graced our corridors, and Joe is an intelligent player who loves the game of football. The franchise is pleased to be in good hands.”
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 9, 2023
But he also thanked the hard times that made him the resilient athlete he is today, like the three years he didn’t get to play at Ohio State – the iconic college program he always dreamed of playing at.
“In those three years (2015-17) that I was talking about at Ohio State, when things felt like nothing was ever going my way. Those three years, like I said, learn a lot, a lot about yourself and you have to be mentally tough in that situation, otherwise you’re not gonna come out the other side. And I continued to improve during that time. I had, again, great coaches and great teammates around me to really during that time leaned on relationships in the locker room to help get through that, and I cherish those relationships to this day because of that.”
Most of all, Burrow committed himself to finishing the job of bringing a Super Bowl title home to Cincinnati. And he said the money won’t change the amount of work he knows he and his team still need to put in to reach the top of the NFL mountain.
Saturday was just a step along the path for Burrow. It was by no means an end to the journey, and he sounded like a 26-year-old franchise quarterback well aware of that reality.