Joe Burrow contract: How much money does the Bengals QB make as a rookie?

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A player like Joe Burrow is a perfect example of why the NFL has a wage scale for rookie contracts. The new Bengals quarterback can only be paid a certain amount on his first NFL deal, which is fortunate for Cincinnati considering the LSU product is coming off arguably the most impressive college football season ever played by a quarterback.

Considering the amount of money veteran quarterbacks are getting on new contracts in 2020, Burrow, even as an unproven rookie, would have earned massive dollars on his rookie contract if not for the salary limitations. Sam Bradford back in 2010 was the last rookie QB to benefit from the lack of these restrictions, which were implemented in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

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Now contracts for all NFL rookies come from what the league calls its rookie compensation pool, which is divided among all 32 teams based on where their draft picks fall. So while Burrow is getting paid the most of all 2020 rookies as the No. 1 overall pick, the Bengals are still getting a relative bargain.

Below is more about Burrow’s contract and how it’s structured.

Joe Burrow contract details

  • Years: 4 (fifth-year option)
  • Value: $36,190,137
  • Guaranteed: $36,190,137
  • Guaranteed at signing: $36,190,137
  • Signing bonus: $23,880,100
  • Average annual salary: $9,047,534 (No. 22 among NFL quarterbacks)

The signing bonus is the most important aspect of Burrow’s contract, as that’s where most of the money flows NFL rookie deals. As is the case for the three first-round quarterbacks selected after Burrow in 2020 (Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love), his rookie contract is fully guaranteed.

The CBA states that all contracts for first-round rookies must be four years with a fifth-year team option, so all four quarterbacks have the same deals in terms of length.

Burrow will earn the vast majority of the money in his rookie contract this year, which is why the signing bonus is key for rookie deals. He is scheduled to earn $24,490,100 in cash in 2020. The figures over the next three years are roughly $2.3 million, $3.9 million and $5.55 million, respectively.

For salary cap purposes on the Bengals’ books, Burrow’s signing bonus is spread out over the span of the contract at $5.97 million per year.

Including that bonus breakdown, below are the full terms of Burrow’s four-year rookie contract.

YearBase salarySigning bonusCap hitCash earnings
2020$610,000$5,970,025$6,580,025$24,490,100
2021$2,255,006$5,970,025$8,225,031$2,255,006
2022$3,900,012$5,970,025$9,870,037$3,900,012
2023$5,545,019$5,970,025$11,515,044$5,545,019
2023(Team option)(Team option)(Team option)(Team option)

The drop-off from Burrow’s rookie contract with the Bengals as the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft is not much to that of Washington defensive end Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick. Young’s deal is worth $34,563,594 including a signing bonus of $22,697,160.

The first quarterback selected after Burrow, Tagovailoa at No. 5 overall to the Dolphins, came in at $30,275,438 on his four-year deal with a signing bonus of $19,578,500.

Because NFL rookie contracts are basically predetermined, for Burrow, Tagovailoa and all other passers selected relatively high in the 2020 NFL Draft, the key is what happens next.

Patrick Mahomes recently signed a new contract with the Chiefs that will pay him a record $45 million per year in new money. The Texans’ Deshaun Watson followed with a new deal that will pay him $39 million per year. Neither Mahomes nor Watson was the first QB selected in the 2017 NFL Draft; that was Mitchell Trubisky to Chicago at No. 2 overall.

So while Burrow had no control over what he could earn on his first NFL contract, his play over the next three or so seasons will determine what kind of money he can make on his next deal.

From the CBA: A rookie contract for a drafted rookie may not be renegotiated, amended or altered in any way until after the final regular season game of the player’s third contract year.”

So if Burrow is a good as Cincinnati thinks he will be, the team will have him on a bargain through 2022. After that, if all goes well for three years, Burrow likely will be among the highest-paid players in the NFL.