By MITCH STACY AP Sports Writer
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, in his first comments to reporters since becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL, said contract negotiations weren’t a distraction as he worked to rehab from a training camp injury and then game plan for Sunday’s opener at Cleveland.
“I’ve always been pretty good at compartmentalizing things that are important to me,” the 26-year-old said Saturday at a news conference.
Burrow finalized his contract extension on Thursday before the Bengals’ buses left for Cleveland. While the Bengals didn’t disclose the terms, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press that Burrow agreed to a five-year contract worth $275 million, including more than $219 million guaranteed.
“I work really hard to perform well on the field and think a lot about how I handle myself and how I can be the best me for this organization,” he said. “So to be rewarded for it means a lot to me — but (there’s) a lot more to do.”
Burrow, who is beginning his fourth season in the NFL, has reversed the fortunes of the franchise while earning a reputation as a decisive and creative leader with a knack for figuring out how to pick up yards when plays break down. He has led Cincinnati to two straight AFC North titles and a Super Bowl appearance following the 2021 season.
Signing the 2022 Pro Bowler and 2021 AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year to an extension was a goal of the team all summer, and Burrow didn’t waver from his desire to spend the rest of his career in Cincinnati.
“A very well-deserved day for Joe,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He’s a guy who represented everything we want to be about. It’s on the field as a football player, it’s off the field in the locker room, it’s in the classroom as a student of the game.”
Burrow missed most of training camp with a strained calf muscle but returned to practice last week, and all indications are that he will start Sunday against the Browns.
He said getting the extension done before the opener was important to him, but he didn’t discuss what may have caused any delays.
“We got what we wanted, they got what they wanted, but I’m going to be here for a long time,” he said. “That’s the important thing.”
Burrow said after signing he took a deep breath and celebrated “for about five minutes.”
“You’re the highest-paid (player) for a certain amount of time until the next person breaks it,” he said. “You try to do as good for yourself as you can and then continue about your business. We’re all about winning here.”
Some of Burrow’s teammates said they were glad the issue was finally out of the way.
“I was just kind of relieved because a lot of guys play better and more stress-relieved because you got your back secure, and the organization believes in you and trusts in you, and now you just go out there and cut it loose,” wide receiver Tyler Boyd said.
Center Ted Karras said the offensive linemen were having dinner together Thursday night when word of the extension arrived.
“Really I’m just glad we got it done by Week 1, so we can settle in and not really talk about it anymore and go to Cleveland to win,” Karras said.
For Christmas last year, Burrow gifted his O-line with luxury cruises. Expectations may be greater when the holidays arrive this year.
“I’m sure once Christmastime rolls around, we’ll kind of chide him a little bit,” Karras joked. “But he’s always hooked us up unbelievably, just on his rookie deal. With a max deal, we’ll see what we get.”