CINCINNATI — The longer Joe Burrow is the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, the harder it becomes to describe his significance to the franchise.
Burrow’s arrival in Cincinnati has been transformational. A franchise that experienced decades of postseason shortcomings has played for championships in his first two full seasons in the league after seeing his rookie year cut short by a knee injury.
The franchise’s hopes hinge on Burrow. And analyzing the moves the Bengals have made in free agency, they are going all-in on their star.
For the second straight offseason, the Bengals beefed up Burrow’s pass protection. After adding four new starters in 2022, Cincinnati shelled out a $31 million signing bonus for four-time Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr., the team’s new left tackle. The Bengals also added some depth at right tackle, inking Cody Ford. Between those additions and the teams intentions to keep wide receivers Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase on the roster in the future, Cincinnati is banking on Burrow and the passing attack to deliver a Super Bowl. And Burrow has plenty of input, too.
“We've got an ongoing dialogue about everything that involves our football team with him, because he's such an important part of that,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said at the NFL scouting combine in March.
Pressure has been an issue in both of Cincinnati's playoff runs over the past two seasons.
During the 2021 postseason, Burrow was sacked 19 times in four games, with seven of those coming in the Super Bowl loss to the Los Angeles Rams. In the 2022 AFC Championship Game, an offensive line that featured three backups surrendered five sacks in the 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
In the four postseason games in which Burrow has been pressured on more than 30% of his dropbacks, he has a 47 Total QBR, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the three games Burrow’s pressure rate has been lower than that threshold, his Total QBR jumps up to 65.5. To put that in perspective, from Week 6 to the end of the recent regular season, Burrow’s 64.1 Total QBR ranked fifth in the NFL during that span.
Adding Brown is the latest sign that the Bengals are supporting Burrow as much as possible. Duke Tobin, the Bengals' director of player personnel, told reporters at the NFL scouting combine that the team also wanted to retain Higgins instead of trading him away, adding that Higgins was in the long-term plans. Higgins and Chase accounted for nearly 39% of Burrow’s completions in 2022.
When asked about Burrow's pending contract negotiation, Tobin underscored the quarterback’s value to the franchise.
“I have been pretty vocal about what Joe means to us, and my job is to facilitate his success as best I can with putting pieces around him,” Tobin said.
Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack was asleep when news of Brown’s addition to the offensive line broke on Thursday night. Pollack said the possibility of adding the former Kansas City tackle didn’t appear on his radar until the day Brown and the Bengals agreed to terms. When Pollack woke up on Friday morning, all the text messages on the phone let him know that he had a new left tackle to help with Burrow’s protection. In the AFC championship loss against Kansas City, Burrow was sacked five times and both of his interceptions occurred while he was under pressure.
“There's a handful of plays that I wish we had done better as a group or as an individual,” Pollack said at the NFL scouting combine when asked about any frustration regarding the offensive line’s performance in that game. “I can't give you any specifics. I mean we lost the game. That's what's frustrating.”
The day before Brown arrived in Cincinnati and officially signed his contract, he met up with Burrow in a New York City hotel over cheeseburgers. The conversation involving Brown's new life in Cincinnati, the lowdown on the coaches and scheme, also included the idea of bringing the Bengals franchise its first Super Bowl, a trophy Brown held just a month ago.
His arrival is another sign that the Bengals are more than willing to give Burrow whatever he needs to make the Bengals a champion.
“Ultimately, Joe isn't in this for self-accolades,” Brown said. “He wants Super Bowls. I'm in it for the same reason.”