Savior of the franchise? For Bengals’ top pick Burrow, ‘it’s just football’

Rookie quarterback signed four-year deal on Friday

Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow said it was a relief to finally sign his first NFL contract.

The No. 1 overall draft pick inked a four-year guaranteed contract worth $36 million, along with a $23.1 million signing bonus, on Friday. He was the last of the Bengals’ seven draft picks to sign and the last of the overall top five draft picks this year.

“It’s been a long time since I got drafted,” Burrow said. “To finally step into the building was more of just, it’s about time. … It’s just a formality to me. I’m going to have to go out and earn that paycheck every single day. That’s the real part that I’m looking forward to.”

The rookies reported to Paul Brown Stadium last week and went through COVID-19 testing and physicals, allowing them to get on the field Friday for a walkthrough. Burrow said he was excited to get out there for the first time and probably threw the ball too hard at times, but now he looks forward to ramping things up when the veterans join next week. The veterans reported Tuesday and will undergo physicals Sunday if they’ve past COVID-19 testing.

After spending the past few months in Athens, Ohio, with his parents, Burrow moved into his new house in Cincinnati two weeks ago and had a chance to work out with some of his new teammates off site with a local trainer. He said he enters camp feeling well-prepared despite the lack of a “normal offseason” since teams were limited to virtual meetings this spring.

“I have a good trainer down in Athens that trained me really hard throughout the offseason,” Burrow said. “I had some good guys to throw to in Athens. I had a good offseason. It was very, very effective for me. Then I moved to Cincinnati and got great work here as well. I had a great offseason.”

Burrow said he didn’t throw at the NFL Combine so he could rest his arm after a long college football season with the national champion LSU Tigers. He said his arm feels stronger because of that downtime he took, knowing he needed to prepare for a season and not just a Combine or Pro Day.

The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner also has lost six pounds since the draft, leaning out while still building strength.

“Coming out of the season you are kind of a soft body,” said Burrow, who now weighs 215 pounds. “You lose a lot of muscle and you got to keep the weight on so you eat some junk food and gain fat. So I leaned out a lot throughout the offseason. I feel great right now.”

Burrow faces the challenge of taking over an NFL offense as a rookie without an offseason workout program providing a chance to settle in and without any practice games to test himself. The league decided to cancel preseason games at the request of the players’ association during negotiations to develop safety protocols and plans to get back on the field amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burrow believes he can still develop chemistry with the receivers and prepare himself in practice, especially with guys like A.J. Green and promising rookie receiver Tee Higgins, the team’s second-round pick. It’s all about creating dialogue with the receivers to talk through individual routes and throws, Burrow said.

“You can do it all in practice,” he said. “You simulate certain ... I always talk about in individual routes, ‘Hey, imagine the defender. He’s trailing you. He’s on your back hip. That means the ball’s going to be over your shoulder. Or hey, he’s on your front hip, so flatten this one out. It’s going to be put on your face.’ So I do that kind of talking in the individual routes just so they can visualize what they’re seeing.”

Burrow had a chance to talk to Peyton Manning in May and soaked up everything he could from the conversation. Manning was the No. 1 overall pick by the Colts in 1998.

“He took about an hour of his time and really explained to me the ins and outs of what he went through,” Burrow said. “I felt like we were in very similar situations coming in and he felt the same. He just gave me a lot of different advice when it came to marketing, how to handle the huddle, how to handle coaches, how assertive to be in your first year and how you build on upon that. It was a great conversation that I was very glad to have.”

Like Manning was for Indianapolis, Burrow is now the face of the Bengals. Asked what he thinks about the idea of being looked at as the savior of a franchise, he said he tries not to “pay too much attention to all that stuff.”

“It’s just football,” he said. “It’s just doing what I’ve always done, continue to work the way I’ve always worked. Obviously I’m not going to get complacent, because I haven’t done anything yet so I’m going to work everyday and be the hardest worker that I can lead my guys to the best of my ability.”

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