Joe Burrow should be among the next young quarterbacks to sign a lucrative long-term extension, but the Cincinnati Bengals star sounds like he'd rather keep his most trusted pass-catchers around than secure a record-setting deal.
Burrow told reporters Tuesday that "whenever you have guys on the team that need to be paid, that's always on your mind." He's likely referring to wideouts Tee Higgins, who's an impending free agent after the 2023 season, and Ja'Marr Chase, who will be eligible for an extension as soon as next offseason. Together, the trio tallied 316 receptions for 4,621 receiving yards and 35 receiving touchdowns in the past two seasons.
"You want that to be a focal point," Burrow said, regarding keeping Higgins and Chase. "We're working to make that happen. ... You gotta have good players. It doesn't matter how good your quarterback is. If you don't have good players around him, you're not going to be a very good team."
Bengals' tough upcoming decisions
Burrow, Higgins and Chase are the Bengals' three most important players.
Burrow has led Cincinnati to the AFC championship game in each of the past two seasons and took the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2021 with Higgins and Chase. Higgins caught 31 balls for 457 yards and three touchdowns in seven postseason games, including a 4-100-2 line in the Super Bowl LVI loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Chase, meanwhile, caught 45 balls for 588 yards and three touchdowns in those postseason games and won NFL Rookie of the Year in 2021.
But Burrow's extension is the biggest and most pressing question to be answered, especially considering the rising market price for a top-level quarterback. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson both just signed massive extensions this spring worth more than $51 million annually with at least $110 million fully guaranteed.
What the Bengals do with Burrow will directly affect what the team does with Higgins and Chase. Higgins would be the next domino to fall, and he and the Bengals have already expressed their desires to stick together despite trade speculation this offseason. Higgins even noted Tuesday that he, Burrow and Chase all "talk about staying together for the long run."
"Hopefully we can do that," Higgins said, "and get something negotiated to where they can keep all three of us."
Chase extension is at least a year away
Chase will be the trickiest one because he's still one year away from negotiating a new deal and could be the top player at his position by then. The best receivers in the NFL make between $25-$30 million annually, per Over the Cap, and that amount will surely rise dramatically when the Minnesota Vikings inevitably extend Justin Jefferson. Minnesota exercised Jefferson's fifth-year option for the 2024 season in April, and the Bengals will likely do the same for Chase next spring.
Like Higgins, Chase sounded like he believes Burrow won't chase market-setting money and instead look to keep the Bengals' offensive core intact.
"He knows what he has to do to win and he wants to win," Chase said. "He's a winning guy. He's not a quarterback that's always interested in money and all that other stuff. He just wants to win, and that's the big thing about Joe."
The Bengals project to again be one of the best teams in the NFL this season. They are tied for the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl (+900 at BetMGM) alongside the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers and tied for the second-best odds to win the AFC (+500) with the Bills. But the future of Cincinnati lies in what they did with their young triumvirate of Burrow, Higgins and Chase.