How’s that for a news dump? 

Maybe it was a coincidence, but it’s certainly amusing that the Cincinnati Bengals announced a historic extension on Thursday night. Word leaked that Joe Burrow is now the NFL’s highest-paid player just as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs kicked off the 2023 season.

Accident or not, it’s fitting. Burrow’s Bengals have proven themselves as the biggest adversaries for Mahomes and the Chiefs these past two years, having split a pair of AFC Championship Games. It goes without saying, but the expectation that comes with a five-year, $270 million contract is that Burrow can once again find his way past his conference rival and into the Super Bowl.

Beyond the eye-popping number that includes $219 million guaranteed, it speaks to the NFL’s biggest appeal — its parity.

It sounds insane now, but there were plenty who wondered back in 2020 whether Burrow should even play for Cincinnati. The LSU quarterback was a no-doubt No. 1 overall pick after running away with the Heisman Trophy and leading the Tigers to a national championship. The Bengals were one of the league’s more dysfunctional franchises, having just completed a 2-14 season and without a playoff win since 1991.

There were loud voices suggesting at the time that Burrow should sit out the draft, rather than tie his talent to such a moribund organization.

Safe to say, the decision to declare was worthwhile for both parties. Days before opening their season against the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals have one of the most feared rosters in the league, are widely expected to contend for a spot in Super Bowl LVIII and it’s all led by their $55 million quarterback.

Speaking of rosters, that’s the real story here. It’s great news for Burrow and a well-deserved payday, but the task now is making the math work for the rest of the Bengals’ pieces.

Tee Higgins is set to begin a contract year on Sunday. Drafted the same year as Burrow, he’s averaged 1,009 yards per season as one of the best No. 2 receivers in football and will need a new contract soon. The only reason Higgins is even considered a second option is due to the other big contract Cinci must account for. 

Ja’Marr Chase isn’t eligible to talk extension until this season is over, but you can bet Burrow will want the Bengals to re-sign his LSU teammate, who has reached the Pro Bowl in each of his first two years. Whenever that number comes out, rest assured it’ll be a big one.

2023 AFC North Preview ft. Bengals, Ravens, Steelers & Browns | NFL on FOX Podcast

Strange as it might sound, getting this deal done should help the Bengals. Burrow is now locked in place through his early 30s, which provides plenty of flexibility to maneuver his money. Even if the guarantees are large, that length of time should help keep Burrow’s cap figures low for the immediate future, helping secure the rest of this core — for at least the next few years.

That’s the challenge if reaching another Super Bowl is the goal. And by locking down the guy who changed their franchise’s fortunes, the Bengals have nailed the first task.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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