CINCINNATI — One week ago, in the living room of his childhood home, Joe Burrow waited for a phone call that confirmed the obvious.
The Burrow era is officially underway. And he’s ready to embrace the burdens that come with that.
Joe Burrow will be counted on to resurrect the Bengals. And it seems like a logical progression from his high school days in southeast Ohio. Story »
“I’m going to come in and be the best player that I can be and try to help build a culture of winning here,” Burrow said minutes after he was drafted on April 23.
On the surface, the transition from Dalton to Burrow can look like a chain reaction. In reality, the Bengals can release Dalton because of what they are adding in Burrow.
In 2019, Burrow posted one of the best seasons in college football history. He set the Football Bowl Subdivision record with 60 touchdowns, completed 76% of his passes, won the Heisman and led LSU to a national championship.
By the time Burrow and his teammates lifted the trophy in January, the Bengals were already preparing for the No. 1 selection in the draft. In February, they officially sat down with Burrow at the scouting combine, a meeting that included team president Mike Brown.
“He’s going to make a great NFL player,” Bengals second-year coach Zac Taylor said at the combine.
The courtship between Burrow and the Bengals set the table for what happened when free agency started in March.
Historically, Cincinnati’s front office has not spent top dollar in free agency. Since 2015, the Bengals hadn’t committed more than $6.7 million in average salary to a free agent, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
That changed after a slow start during this year’s negotiating period. The Bengals committed to two massive deals to shore up the defense — a four-year, $53 million contract for defensive tackle D.J. Reader and a three-year, $42 million deal for cornerback Trae Waynes.
The spending wasn’t lost on Burrow as he went through the pre-draft process.
“I was very excited about it,” Burrow said after he was drafted. “I think it shows the direction this franchise wants to head. I think it’s going to be a winning franchise for years to come, and I hope to play a big part in it.”
The spending spree was a quiet vote of confidence in Burrow’s ability to step right in as the starting quarterback. When the Bengals spent that kind of money in free agency, it eliminated the cap space required to pay Dalton the $17.7 million on the final year of a contract that was set to expire after the 2020 season.
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The transition from Dalton to Burrow mirrors how Dalton came into the league. In 2011, Dalton, the former TCU standout, arrived in Cincinnati in the midst of a lockout between the owners and the players’ union. Burrow hasn’t physically met with the team yet because of the restrictions in place by the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before Dalton was released, the goal was to get Burrow up to speed as quickly as possible. He and the rest of the rookies will start their virtual workout program on May 11.
Taylor was hesitant to anoint Burrow as the Week 1 starter before he even arrived. Burrow must still get acclimated to everything that comes with playing in the NFL.
“That’s a challenge for everyone we pick — getting used to that and getting comfortable with how quickly you make decisions,” Taylor said. “We selected him because we know he can handle all of that.”
Over the bulk of the past two decades, the quarterback position has signaled the start and end of an era in Bengals history. Carson Palmer reigned from 2004 to 2010. Dalton commandeered the team from 2011 to 2019.
Starting now, the franchise will be defined by what Burrow does in the coming years.
“I’m the No. 1 pick, but it doesn’t mean anything in four months,” Burrow said on draft night. “So I’m going to continue to work really hard to be the best player that I can be for this team, for this franchise and this city.”