Have faith Bengaldom. Entering Week 3 of Phase II of the off-season, and here we are feeling like the front office got it right again. After most of the dust has settled from the 2023 NFL Draft, and everyone was screaming from the rooftops, “Why didn’t the Bengals draft a TE?” Which having not taken one at any point, is a fair question. However, assessing the current state of the team, weighing the pros and cons of the current draft class, mixed with last years crop, I believe it is clear to see the logic the front office, specifically Duke Tobin, his staff, Katie Blackburn and ownership including Mr. Brown have for the future of this franchise. They are wanting to remain young, fast, and ultimately affordable on defense so they can keep the core players (specifically on offense, but outliers like Logan Wilson apply as well) together and clicking to allow Joe Burrow to be Joe Burrow.
Hit rewind and lets go back to when this whole process started a couple years ago when the naming rights of the stadium were beginning to be discussed. Ownership recognized (and I would be willing to bet Katie Blackburn’s daughter Elizabeth, whose title is Director of Strategy & Engagement for the Bengals, was a driving force behind this recognition) that money needed to be set aside in escrow so that the cap could be manipulated to allow cash payments to be made outside of the structure of the salary cap set forth by the NFL. I am not enough of an expert to know exactly how all that works, but that is how these teams are able to remain under the cap, while still paying superstars their money. It can be difficult to do, however, because you have to have that money on hand and ready to be paid out, which for smaller market teams is difficult sometimes. Consequently, the Cincinnati Bengals recognized that about their franchise, and approached principle owner Mike Brown, and expressed how important it was to get a steady flow of cash into the pipeline of their team. The first, quickest way to start that ball rolling was selling the naming rights of the stadium…enter Paycor.
Now, Ground Hog day it, fast forward again to present day, and here we are with a young, affordable, fast defense for Lou Anarumo to be the mad scientist he is, and disappear to the lab for the next month and a half. Only to appear before training camp with a new formula that will ultimately finish somewhere around the top 15 of most defensive categories, maybe even higher. Which will ultimately be more than enough for Zac Taylor, Brian Callahan, and Joe Burrow to have a great chance of replicating an AFC North division title, potentially the number 1 seed in the playoffs, and as we all hope…a super bowl victory in the near future.
I have seen some interesting pieces out in the world currently talking about the Joe Burrow contract extension potentially being a percentage of the cap deal that continues to increase as the salary cap increases annually. Essentially what that means is hypothetically, Joe Burrow would make say anywhere from 12-15% of the cap annual. Which means after his 5th year option next year, the contract goes into affect in year 2025. By that time, the salary cap could potentially be $300 million or more. Mathematically speaking, that would put Joe Burrow’s salary at between $36,000,000-$45,000,000 annually. But, “Brian, Joe Burrow is worth way more than that!” I hear you. However, think about who Joe Burrow is as a person. Joe cares about those around him. Joe stood at the podium of winning the Heisman Trophy and spoke about food insecurity in and around his hometown. That one act, whether intended or not, generated more money in a weekend time period than the food bank organization there had raised the previous ten years combined. Joe Burrow wants to get paid as an NFL QB, and he has to accept a certain level of a contract number as a member of the NFLPA because every salary is based off of another, and that is how players prevent the owners from paying them pennies on the dollar when compared to the amount of revenue generated by the league as a whole. Remember, before a game is played, a ticket is sold, a concession stand is stocked, and a parking lot is filled, the league is cutting 32 checks in the neighborhood of $400 million dollars annually to each team as part of the revenue sharing agreement in place with the TV deals in place, and that number is conservative since the Amazon Thursday night deal and new YouTube TV NFL Sunday Ticket deals have been signed. Joe Burrow will be perfectly content being the 5th, 6th, 7th, maybe even 10th or 15th highest paid QB in the league because it will mean he keeps the guys around him that he wants and likes playing with, allowing them each to get paid their market value. That is the ultimate team player, and that is why a majority of his teammates will continue to want to play with him.
I give you all of that information to bring it all back around and say the front office did it again, and drafted a group of talented, team-first, captain-like candidate players that will buy into what Head Coach Zac Taylor is selling. Dax Hill will be much improved this year, Cam Taylor-Britt is a stud waiting to burst onto the national scene, Logan Wilson and Sam Hubbard will be paid accordingly (admittedly my fingers are crossed on this one), Tee Higgins will get his money because of the Joe Burrow affect mentioned above this year, and Ja’Marr Chase next season when he is eligible. Tight End will either continue to be an annual position they go out and find guys to play it because Joe Burrow has the ability to make anyone that can stay healthy effective and/or they will finally draft a guy they can develop long-term. The organization clearly does not place the same value at that position as the fans do, so as far as that position goes, we will need to continue to trust the front office and coaching staff, and allow them to continue to make correct decision after correct decision. And, we as fans need to continue to have the faith in them to do so, waking up for our Ground Hog Day Bill Murray performance and avoid the “Woe is me, the sky is falling” Twitter meltdowns I saw over the past few weeks. This organization is in the best state it has ever been. Young fans are excited about watching the team we all grew up loving but not winning…Win! Enjoy the ride we’re on, have faith in the current coaching staff, the front office, and ultimately Joe Burrow who is wise beyond his years and plays with a quiet swagger that is recognized by anyone paying attention. He has, and will continue to change the culture of our beloved franchise, and in the process may change the culture of the league as a whole, and effectively cause a ripple effect of kind human behavior as well. The front office did that. Joe may have been a gift from God in terms of him being available when we were drafting first overall in 2020, but the front office drafted him, they drafted the support he has around him, and they are doing their due diligence to keep him and those same support guys around him. Have faith Bengaldom.