The looming quarterback extensions this offseason might reset the quarterback market completely.
All signs point to multiple QBs from the 2020 NFL Draft class -- including the Bengals' Joe Burrow, the Chargers' Justin Herbert and the Eagles' Jalen Hurts -- receiving new contracts now that they're eligible. And all three could break the bank at some point this offseason.
But based on comments from Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn on Wednesday from the Annual League Meeting, we shouldn't expect news on the Burrow front right away, describing the early negotiations between the club and Burrow's representatives to this point as "preliminary discussions." Blackburn understands the anxiety over getting a deal done. But there's also an order of business in place -- and the Bengals just aren't there yet.
"We've been thinking about it," Blackburn said, via The Athletic. "But there's free agency and such. So we'll see if we can get into it a little bit more maybe. It's hard to say exactly the pace. But we hope that there's something that can get done. We sort of said we won't talk about it much until there's something to talk about."
Translation: It's still early. Most quarterbacks with active contracts who have received extensions in recent years have signed later in the calendar than where we're at now.
"Working on it, working on it," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told NFL Network's Judy Battista earlier this week. "Fortunately, that's not something I've got to deal with on a daily basis. But certainly, that's in our plans."
There's no question that Burrow, who has led the team to more playoff victories and Super Bowl appearances than the franchise had in the 30 years prior to his arrival, deserves a new deal. He's completely changed the vector of the franchise.
"He's just so consistent," Taylor said. "I think that's the biggest thing. It's a long season, he's still a relatively young player, but his consistency from Day 1 through Year 3 has been really impressive.
"So many guys, it's a long season, they can change over the course of the season. He's not. He sticks to his plan, he sticks to his routine, and I think that's why he's been able to play so consistently over the three years he's been here."
But for the Bengals, there are a few big-picture concerns that must be measured. Cincinnati will try to do everything in its power to not only sign Burrow but also keep wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins around on long-term deals as well. Both could command WR1-type money, however, which might be difficult for the Bengals to match for both.
One immediate solution could be to cut running back Joe Mixon, which would generate $10 million in salary-cap relief. Asked whether Mixon might be a cap victim this offseason, Blackburn gave a somewhat telling non-answer.
"Right now, he's on the team and we are gonna count on him until that wouldn't be the case," Blackburn said.
It's hard to read the "right now" part -- and Blackburn repeated that phrase regarding Mixon's future. It would make sense that the Bengals could cut him (or ask him to take a pay cut) if they can find the right RB replacement in the draft. Mixon was also charged with aggravated menacing this offseason, and though a judge dropped the charges initially, they could be refiled at some point.
Blackburn hinted that they're awaiting more information on all fronts regarding Mixon.
"You've seen other teams have to make moves," Blackburn said. "Could we get to that point? Maybe. But it would be down the road here and we'd have to see if that's what makes sense or not."
Another factor that could complicate the Burrow deal is timing. With Herbert, Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa eligible for extensions this offseason, their respective teams must think about the potential benefit for getting a deal done earlier. After all, once one of them signs, the other quarterbacks' agents now have a negotiation template from which to work -- and the later deals often are for more money than the first domino to fall.
Will the Bengals shift into Burrow mode as soon as the 2023 NFL Draft is in the rearview mirror? Can they keep (most of) the band together? Maybe, but Blackburn wasn't tipping her hand in late March.
"We'll find out," Blackburn said. "There are so many things that come into play, so we'll just play it by ear as we go and do our best to see where we can get to."