Most 2020 NFL mock drafts have LSU quarterback Joe Burrow plastered into the No. 1 pick, owned by the Cincinnati Bengals. And there are plenty of reasons why this makes perfect sense.
The Bengals might be at the end of the road with Andy Dalton. Burrow is coming off possibly the greatest season ever by a college QB. He grew up a few hours down the road in Athens, Ohio. His father has said that Burrow would enjoy being picked by Cincinnati.
Open-and-shut case, no? Well, maybe not ...
Super Bowl week has provided a few interesting sound-bites this week. Whether what was said will amount to much remains to be seen. Take a look for yourselves and decide what to make of all this.
What Joe Burrow said
Burrow has made the media rounds at Super Bowl LIV, and the most interesting thing he said came on “The Dan Patrick Show.”
"You want to go No. 1. But you also want to go to a great organization that is committed to winning. Committed to winning Super Bowls." - Joe Burrow on @dpshow
— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) January 31, 2020
The Bengals haven’t been known as a franchise that’s willing to, shall we say, go the extra mile under team owner Mike Brown. They have the smallest scouting staff in the NFL. They have no indoor training facility. They’re not known as big spenders in free agency, although that hasn’t always held true.
So this Burrow quote can be read two different ways: You could assume he has no interest in being a Bengal, or you could suggest that he’s sending a message to Brown about what he’d want if the Bengals drafted him.
How the Palmer brothers factor into this
We learned Friday that Burrow will be working with Jordan Palmer for his pre-draft training, via reporting from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.
LSU QB Joe Burrow, the leader in the clubhouse to go 1st overall, has selected ex-NFL QB Jordan Palmer for his pre-draft training, I'm told. Palmer's brother Carson, of course, was drafted 1st overall by the Bengals in 2003.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 31, 2020
Palmer spent a few years in Cincinnati backing up his brother, Carson, who once was anointed a franchise savior when they made him the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft.
And Carson Palmer also happened to be down in Miami this week doing the media circuit, and his comments about the state of affairs with Brown and the Bengals needed no interpretation. Palmer flat-out ripped the organization.
Speaking with CBS Sports Radio Friday morning, Palmer let it be known that he doesn’t see the Bengals as an organization that is — to borrow Burrow’s words — committed to winning.
“That’s why I wanted out: I never felt like the organization was really trying to win a Super Bowl and really chasing the Super Bowl,” Palmer said. “Because that’s what today’s day and age is: The game today is ... you can’t just hope you draft well and not go after free agents and you just end up in the Super Bowl. You gotta go get it.
Palmer compared his situation in Cincinnati to that of his time with the Arizona Cardinals. Neither franchise is synonymous with winning, but Palmer painted a night-and-day contrast.
“[Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill] was all about winning,” Palmer said. “Everything was about winning. The culture was about winning. ...
“And when the organization is completely behind doing what it takes to win, and you’ve got the right players, then that’s the recipe for a Super Bowl. When you’ve got good players but you’re not really forcing everybody in the organization’s hand to do what we can to be better, to do what we can to win a Super Bowl, that’s the difference in the NFL.”
Could Burrow try to force his way out of Cincinnati, a la Eli Manning and the San Diego Chargers or John Elway and the Baltimore Colts? We can’t say we’re at that point yet, but ... better do that next mock in pencil just to be sure.
If not Burrow, then who do Bengals target?
Oh, the Miami Sound Machine was not done playing the hits this week.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — health willing — might be the highest-rated prospect other than Burrow at quarterback in 2020. Assuming he’s medically cleared, there’s plenty of buzz about him landing in the top five, such as to a team like the Miami Dolphins.
Could Tua be an option for the Bengals, sort of a modern-day Boomer Esiason if you will, if Burrow makes it clear he doesn’t want them to pick him?
Uhh, maybe. But the comments of Tagovailoa’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, suggest that Cincinnati wouldn’t be their first choice.
Talking with @leighsteinberg asked his client Tua, and if he wants him to go No. 1 in upcoming #NFLDraft
“You want to make sure that your client ends up with a good organization....I’m hoping Cinncy falls in love with Joe Burrow".
— 97.3 ESPN FM (@973espn) January 30, 2020
Let’s run that back: Steinberg is saying he’d rather his injury-prone client be drafted somewhere other than the first pick.
Last year’s top pick, Kyler Murray, signed a four-year deal worth just north of $35.1 million, including a $23.5 million signing bonus. The No. 3 pick, Quinnen Williams, signed for roughly $32.5 million, with a signing bonus just under $21.7 million. Devin White was the No. 5 pick last year and signed for $29.3 million ($19.3 million guaranteed).
That’s a difference of $2.5 million to nearly $6 million in lost salary if Tagovailoa isn’t picked first. That’s how much Steinberg might view the importance of a great landing spot. Yikes.
Of course, Steinberg walked back his “joke” on Twitter later.
— Leigh Steinberg (@leighsteinberg) January 31, 2020
Steinberg and Brown have history, going back nearly 30 years. In an infamous incident, Steinberg lamented his client, Houston QB David Klingler, being drafted sixth overall by the Bengals, saying, “Oh my god, Mike Brown” at that moment, with the agent not realizing he had a hot mic at that moment. It’s a story that lives on in draft lore, reflecting the views of other agents, too.
No Ducking this connection
We were told by folks at the recent Senior Bowl that the Bengals lobbied hard to make sure their staff coached Oregon QB Justin Herbert. They also wanted Burrow at the game, but he declined the invitation, having just come off of a national title the week prior. No one could blame Burrow.
It was a productive week for Herbert, who established himself as the best quarterback at the event, ahead of Utah State’s Jordan Love. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor threw praise at Herbert all week, and Bengals executive director of personnel Duke Tobin told Sports Illustrated’s Breer that the Bengals are locked in on four players at No. 1: Burrow, Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young, Tagovailoa and Herbert.
It would be quite the letdown for Bengals fans that had their sights set on Burrow to instead get Herbert, with or without the spoils of a trade down and the draft picks that likely would come in return. Herbert is talented, no doubt, and his 42 college starts would prepare him for being an Opening Day starter for whatever team he lands on. Size, athleticism, arm talent — Herbert has them in spades.
Still, the Burrow love has grown by the day, and it would feel like an ignominious day in franchise history if he somehow forced his way out of being picked by the Bengals and them having to settle on their second (or third) choice.
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