ANALYSIS: 3 things to consider as Bengals, Burrow work on contract extension

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Joe Burrow said all the things his teammates would have wanted to hear about how he’s handling his contract negotiations with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The fourth-year quarterback didn’t want to air out details through the media when he spoke Tuesday for the first time this offseason, but he expressed an awareness of how his extension could impact the ability to keep some of the core pieces around him. Wide receiver Tee Higgins also is negotiating his second contract and Ja’Marr Chase will be due next year.

The wide receiver market, especially for a second contract, could be significant to Burrow’s deal. Chase said he’s watching what happens with Burrow and Higgins this year, knowing his time is coming soon, too, and hoping the Bengals factor him into future considerations.

“I know it’s coming,” Chase said. “Only so much can happen, and we’re still waiting on Tee’s and Joe’s right now. I know I want Tee to stay here as long as possible and I want the same with Joe. I want those guys by my side as long as I can. They are great teammates, great people to have around. But you know, sometimes we might lose people. Not saying we are, but it will come to that one day, and when that day comes, you’ve just got to be prepared for it.”

Here’s a look at three things to consider with Burrow’s deal in the works.

1. Recent quarterback deals

The Bengals know they will have to spend big bucks to keep an elite quarterback like Burrow, and recent deals can give an idea what top players at his position are making and how it impacts roster spending.

Lamar Jackson, a 2018 draft pick by Baltimore, spent 2022 on a fifth-year option worth $23 million, but recently signed his new five-year deal with the Ravens, worth $260 million with $135 million of that fully guaranteed and another $50 million that could be guaranteed. His cap hit is $22.2 million this year and that number increases about $10-11 million each of the next two seasons before a big jump in 2026 and 2027 when it would be $74.7 million.

The Browns last year made Deshaun Watson’s $230 million contract fully guaranteed, which can be important to a player, but others point to Patrick Mahomes’ situation as the more ideal structure. His 10-year $450 million contract only includes $63.1 million in guaranteed money. His cap hit jumped to $35.8 million in Year 2 of the deal but doesn’t go above $45 million until 2027, and by then it could be restructured.

Jalen Hurts recently signed a five-year $255 million deal with $110 million of that fully guaranteed by the Eagles, but his cap number is just $6.1 million this year, $13.6 million next year, $21.8 million in 2025 and gradually goes up to $47.1 million by 2028.

2. Wide receiver contracts exploding

Even if Burrow wants to leave some money on the table for Higgins and Chase, the Bengals will have to deal with an also-exploding wide receiver market.

Davante Adams, who is in his 10th season, signed a five-year, $140 million contract last year with the Raiders, but while $65.7 million of that could be guaranteed, only $22.8 million is fully guaranteed. His cap charge is $14.7 this season but that goes up to $25.4 million next year and $44.1 million the final two seasons of his contract.

Tyreek Hill, an eighth-year player, currently has the most expensive contract at his position in total value per year after signing an extension after the Chiefs traded him to Miami in March 2022. His contract is worth $120 million over four years with $52.5 million of that fully guaranteed. His cap hit is $12.8 million this season, but $31.1 million next year, $34.2 million in 2025 and $56.3 in 2026.

A.J. Brown, a 2019 draft pick, just signed his second contract last year after he was traded from Tennessee to Philadelphia, and his deal was worth $100 million over four years with the most guaranteed money among wide receivers at $56.5 million fully guaranteed. His cap charge is only $8.3 million this season, $12.4 million in 2024, $26.5 million in 2025 and $41.5 million in 20226.

The Bengals can get creative with how they structure their deals but it’s a tricky puzzle.

3. Money savings opportunities

The Bengals have some big contracts potentially coming off the books next year with Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and Chidobe Awuzie all on expiring contracts.

Hendrickson is making $15 million in average annual value, Reader’s contract has an average annual value of $13.25 million, and Mixon has a club option for 2024 worth $12 million in AAV. Boyd’s deal is worth $10.75 million in average annual value, and Awuzie’s is at $7.25 million.

Cincinnati has been building up its defense through the draft the past two years, seemingly preparing for some of these departures that could be coming, and that could be a cost-saving method to help with Burrow’s deal. Rookie contracts are much easier to manage.

This year’s draft also brought in receiver Charlie Jones, who could be Boyd’s future replacement in the slot, and Chase Brown, who is an addition to the running back room. The Bengals will be hoping to hit with these young draft picks and that they develop into future starters.

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