Joe Burrow is a rare breed of quarterback. A hometown hero (well, close enough) for the Cincinnati Bengals with supreme talent. Poised to lead the rebuilding of one of the NFL’s worst run franchises. He came to the NFL on the back of the greatest college season of all time for someone playing the quarterback position. The leader of the team that bought LSU its first national championship in 13 years. The first with an unbeaten season for almost 60. A Heisman Trophy winner with the national platform that brings. A platform Burrow used to highlight the struggles of families living below the poverty line in his hometown. A platform that subsequently raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help feed those needy families. A phenomenal football player, a better person. 

Returning to his home state of Ohio, determined to spearhead the rebuilding of a franchise historically mismanaged at the ownership level. Burrow’s form in his rookie season could not be more diametrically opposed to that of the rest of his organisation. Through 10 weeks Burrow is on pace to break rookie records associated with an unusually high usage for a rookie. His grit and toughness combined with ability have Bengals fans smitten with their new signal caller. Then in Week 11, in a matchup against the Washington Football Team, disaster struck. 

The Sight No-One Wanted to See

Shortly after half time, on third and two under the shadow of his own posts; Burrow took the snap and entered his drop back. Number two overall pick Chase Young blew past the Cincinnati offensive linemen with the ease of a father play fighting with his young child. In the ensuing melee as Young headed towards executing the sack Burrow buckled. The whole NFL world held its breath. The let out a whelp of collective pain. Joe Burrow, the number one overall pick. Probable Offensive Rookie of the Year. Young man, who’s phenomenal story of overcoming adversity and then giving back to the needy in the community that shaped him captivated fans worldwide. Was laying prone on the field, writhing in pain, clutching his injured knee. Out came the cart and later Burrow tweeted that he was done for the year.

Now pointing fingers on the back of an injury such as this is a tad unbecoming. However, it would be wrong to say that no-one predicted this outcome. The Bengals have famously neglected investing in their offensive line in recent seasons. They rank 25th in the NFL in average spending on the position group. Their two offensive tackles total $10 million a year in money this season, half the value that the Green Bay Packers pay the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL David Bakhtiari. Recent draft picks Jonah Williams and Billy Price have struggled with both injuries and poor performance since entering the league. 

The Bengals knew they were drafting at number one overall in last years NFL Draft, going into free agency they new they would select their next franchise quarterback with that pick. There were serviceable, veteran linemen available. Cincinnati had the cap space to sign them. They didn’t spend up. Mike Brown, the owner of the Bengals has a reputation for being stingy in his spending. This time, it has led to the teams franchise quarterback suffering a serious injury. When you draft a quarterback with the ability to start for a long time in the NFL you had better protect them. If the Bengals want Joe Burrow to make it to his second contract, let alone sign it with them, they need to change the habits of a lifetime. Anything else will be an unforgivable dereliction of duty. 

Where Do They Go From Here?

Offensive Line & Tight End

Addressing the cause of the Joe Burrow injury is priority number one for Cincinnati this offseason. With cap space and a potential top-five pick the Bengals need to go all out adding offensive linemen in the same way the Buffalo Bills did in 2017 when they signed six players for five positions. Names like Brandon Scherff, Joe Thuney and Corey Linsley should be top of the Bengals list should they reach free agency. Getting a legitimate, veteran interior presence will help the development of youngsters like Price and Williams. The next stage will be nailing the draft process. Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell is a force of nature. The type of tackle that can lock down the blindside for 10 years. 

This is the most critical offseason in recent memory for the Bengals. The trend of not paying for free agents, of not investing in the future of the franchise has to end. If it doesn’t then they will waste the achievement of drafting a franchise quarterback. Something that can set a franchise back for decades, as we have seen in the Bengals recent history, in particular their treatment of Carson Palmer. Burrow’s injury was Palmer-esque. It is now up to Mike Brown to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. 

Alex Chinery

Head of Analytics