NFL Media reported prior to a divisional playoff game against the Bills that the Bengals are targeting quarterback Joe Burrow, 2020's first overall pick, for a contract extension this offseason. As a 2020 draft pick, Burrow became eligible for a new deal on Jan. 9, the day after his third regular season ended.
"Yeah, I think that starts now internally," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said in Monday's season-ending press conference when asked about a new Burrow contract. The Bengals lost 23-20 to the Chiefs in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. Burrow is scheduled to make $5,545,018 in 2023 on an $11,515,043 salary cap number. The Bengals will surely pick up their fifth-year option on Burrow for a fully guaranteed $29.504 million in 2024 prior to the May 2 deadline.
Fully guaranteed contract prospects
A fully guaranteed contract has been a big sticking point in AFC North division rival Lamar Jackson's negotiations with the Ravens. Jackson played on a fifth-year option this season due to his insistence of a completely secure deal similar to Deshaun Watson's.
The Browns, another AFC North rival, gave Watson a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in connection with his trade from the Texans last March. The Watson contract is an anomaly as subsequent high-end quarterback deals, particularly Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson's respective five-year extensions with the Cardinals and Broncos, weren't fully guaranteed.
Burrow will likely encounter heavy resistance to a fully guaranteed contract, just like Jackson. The Bengals are in the dark ages when it comes to structuring contracts for veteran players. The only guaranteed money in Cincinnati veteran contracts is a signing bonus and a roster bonus payable within a few days of signing.
The bigger deals contain a third or fifth day of the league year roster bonus in the second and third years. The roster bonuses are supposed to be substitutes for additional contract guarantees. The overall guarantees in Cincinnati contracts are usually less than comparable deals on other teams.
Adherence to a longstanding preferred contract structure will be problematic. It's hard to imagine Burrow accepting a new deal where the only true guaranteed money is in the first year when Murray and Wilson, the latest two quarterback data points, have $103.3 million and $124 million fully guaranteed at signing. The respective overall guarantees in their contracts are $160 million and $161 million, whereas the largest signing bonus ever for an NFL player is Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's $66 million.
Expect the Bengals to establish a new contract precedent with Burrow as the Steelers did with edge rusher T.J. Watt in 2021 on a four-year extension that made him the league's highest-paid non-quarterback. The Steelers also refused to have traditional salary guarantees in veteran contracts until Watt's. His $80 million fully guaranteed at signing was a record for non-quarterbacks.