The latest on QB Joe Burrow's upcoming extension with the Cincinnati Bengals

2MAC66A Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, September 29, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)

• Burrow should become the highest-paid QB in the NFL: In line with Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts, Burrow is poised to reset the market once more.

• The Bengals will have to set a new standard: Trey Hendrickson's recent extension, with two years still remaining on his contract, indicates Cincinnati is willing to bend on contractual precedents.

• Calf worriers, fear not: Provided the Bengals have a positive prognosis about Burrow’s calf going forward, the training camp injury shouldn't stifle extension talks.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

With the Los Angeles Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert agreeing to terms on a five-year, $262.5 million contract extension last week, all eyes turn to the Cincinnati Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow.

Will Burrow become the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL?

It would come as a complete shock if he did not, but we think Burrow follows in line with Herbert’s raise of half a million dollars per year over Lamar Jackson, which would give Burrow a five-year, $265 million pact with an average annual value of $53 million. This is a hair less than our projection from earlier this offseason, which you can read here.

The total value of the deal is likely not as much of a sticking point as the guarantees in the contract and the early-year cash flows, especially following Justin Herbert’s record-setting first-year new money cash flow of $100 million, which represented a 25% raise over the $80 million mark Lamar Jackson received — also a record at the time of signing.

While Burrow has made it clear he’d love to ensure teammates such as wide receivers Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase can stick around for the long haul, he’s likely not going to take a bad deal. The beauty of the situation, from Burrow’s perspective, is that he can leverage his status as one of the best and most marketable players in the sport to benefit both the organization and Bengals players for generations to come.

Will the Bengals have to bend on their precedents?

Nearly 20 years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals made quarterback Carson Palmer the highest-paid player at his position with a six-year, $97 million extension. The guaranteed portion of the contract was a $15 million signing bonus paid out in 2005 and a $9 million option bonus paid out in 2006, with no salary guarantees or anything guaranteed beyond these two prorated bonuses. When Palmer signed the extension, he still had three years remaining on his rookie contract, meaning he was then locked up for a total of nine years.

This exceedingly long-term pact has been suggested by many as the means through which Burrow could provide the Bengals organization with a team-friendly structure, but that seems far more challenging in today’s NFL, given the Bengals’ contractual precedents. Everyone points to Patrick Mahomes decade-long extension or Josh Allen‘s six-year pact as a blueprint, but a key reason why Mahomes accepted such a structure is lost in the discussion with respect to Burrow. This past March, Mahomes triggered a $38.9 million guarantee for a March 2025 roster bonus — owed in the sixth year of his 12-year contract or the fourth new year of his 10-year extension.

Cincinnati does not guarantee salary in the second year of contracts or extensions, much less the fourth or sixth, depending on how you want to look at it. The rolling guarantees for Mahomes don’t stop there, either, as he can trigger future-year guarantees in every single year of his contract up through 2030, where he will trigger a small guarantee in 2031.

Now, of course, Mahomes will be playing on a newly constructed deal perhaps as soon as this offseason, but certainly well before 2031. However, this ties back to the cash flow conversation, which was the true team-friendly benefit Mahomes provided the Chiefs. Mahomes earned $37.95 million in new-money cash flow through the first new year of his extension and will earn $116.35 million in new-money cash flow through the third new year of his extension, whereas we mentioned before how Herbert will make $100 million in new-money cash flow through the first new year, with $160 million in new money through the third new year.

If Cincinnati wants to have more liquidity and cash on hand to retain other top contributors, it would benefit them to not have to dole out massive cash early on to Burrow. However, the catch-22 is that the only way Burrow should even entertain taking less cash up front is if the Bengals are willing to guarantee salary several years out into the deal to protect him, which they have effectively refused to do up to this point. If they aren’t willing to give Burrow assurances via guarantees that he will earn his money for years to come, then he should demand the biggest signing bonus in NFL history with a large option bonus in 2024 as well to get as much cash as possible as soon as possible.

All of that said, there are clear signs that Cincinnati is willing to change and adapt to the modern era. The Bengals had not extended a player with two or more years remaining on their contract since prior to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, but they did so with edge defender Trey Hendrickson last week, agreeing to a well-deserved $21 million extension through 2025. The extension provides Hendrickson with a much-needed raise, as he’s completely outperformed his original free agent contract. This should certainly be viewed as a reason for optimism with Burrow going forward.

At the end of the day, elite franchise quarterbacks always receive special treatment. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers operate similarly to the Bengals with respect to guarantees, but Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were able to bend those rules. And now in Pittsburgh, edge defender T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have received guarantees outside the first year of their respective contracts.

So, we do expect Burrow to sign a contract unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the Bengals, with guaranteed salaries and other mechanisms in place to accommodate both parties. This can hopefully open the door for non-quarterbacks to ask for, and receive, the same language in Cincinnati.

Will Burrow’s injury prevent this deal from getting done?

Burrow’s calf strain sustained last week in practice had everyone around the NFL holding their collective breath. Thankfully, it appears he will miss only the remainder of offseason activities and not any regular season action. While every situation is different, this could be viewed the same as when Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott sustained a season-ending ankle injury in October of 2020 while playing on the franchise tag but nonetheless agreed to terms on a four-year extension in March of 2021. Provided the Bengals have a positive prognosis about Burrow’s calf going forward, we see no reason why this should stifle extension talks.


Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit