2020 NFL Draft: Former No.1-overall draft pick advises Joe Burrow to ‘pull an Eli Manning’ on Bengals

At this point, it seems a foregone conclusion the Cincinnati Bengals will select former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, or will they? There can be no arguing the justification for pulling that trigger, considering they’re officially working on trading Andy Dalton and backup Ryan Finley proved with an 0-3 record as a starter in 2019 that he is not the future at the position. But while they’re likely laser-focused on Burrow, his feelings toward the organization might not be reciprocal.

Generally speaking, NFL prospects have zero say in what team they land with, which makes asking them their thoughts on it a moot point, a need for news cycle content notwithstanding. But when a player is coming off of arguably the best season in college football history — capped with a national championship and a Heisman — it’s safe to say he isn’t the usual suspect. 

Burrow has found himself continually bombarded with questions on if he’d actually like the Bengals to select him, and while he’s mostly played it straight down the middle, he recently revealed a crack in his PR armor that raised some eyebrows.

“I do have leverage,” Burrow said, via Fort-Worth Star Telegram

To be fair, the 23-year-old didn’t say he’d use it, but was simply pointing out its existence. 

He’d temper the statement a bit by framing the next several weeks as a chance for both he and the Bengals to exercise due diligence, but even that is an indirect double down on the fact he believes he has sway in where he’ll end up playing in 2020.

“[The Bengals] have their process and I have my process,” he said. “We haven’t even gotten to the combine yet. There’s a lot of things that happen leading up to the draft and a lot of information gathered. Right now, I’m focused on being the best football player I can be. 

“I’m in this unique spot. You can go watch my film. I don’t have to prove myself at pro day and at the combine, so I’m in a unique spot where I can focus on getting ready for the year.”

It all gets much more intriguing when you wonder what would it’d look like if Burrow did flex his leverage ahead of the draft. 

Would it be an exceedingly rare scenario like the one the NFL witnessed in 2004 when consensus first-overall pick Eli Manning — backed by football legend, and his father, Archie Manning — refused to take a single snap for the Chargers in San Diego? The PR move forced the Chargers into a pre-set trade that saw them select Manning with the first-overall pick only to send him to the Giants in exchange for Philip Rivers (the fourth-overall selection), a 2004 third-round pick and a 2005 first-rounder.

Is that the type of fireworks football fans are in for this April? 

Having been in a similar situation decades ago, former first-overall pick Steve Bartkowski certainly hopes so. Speaking directly to Burrow and his family from the Davey O’Brien Legends Award ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, the former two-time Pro Bowl quarterback didn’t mince his words regarding how the Heisman winner should handle the Bengals — if they come a’calling. 

“They’re Ohio guys [and] I might’ve offended them by telling them that, but if it’s the Bengals, I think I’d pull an Eli Manning on that one,” Bartowski said. “I said, ‘You’ve got a chance to do that.’ That’s happened. [John] Elway kind of set the tone, then the Mannings delved into it after Eli was picked by San Diego.”

The Bengals are coming off of a 2-14 campaign and haven’t had a winning season in their last four attempts. They were four games worse in Zac Taylor’s first year as head coach of the club, after the team sent longtime coach Marvin Lewis packing, and the jury is out on if they can get things turned around quickly. After all, Burrow likely wouldn’t have three-time All Pro wide receiver A.J. Green to throw to this coming season, and the Bengals are an organization not known for success, no matter who’s calling the shots in the front office and on the sideline.

The latter is something Bartowski is truly honed in on, considering the club has only eight winning seasons since 1990.

“It’s not the best organization,” he said. 

Bartowski did leave the door open for a glint of optimism in Cincinnati, though. 

“You know, times change, things change,” he said. “Atlanta wasn’t a good organization until Arthur Blank bought the team. It was a terrible organization. They didn’t know the right hand from the left to be honest.”

In the end, Bartowski was named to the Falcons’ Ring of Honor and also had his number retired, but the team mustered only three winning seasons in his 11 years in Atlanta, and one was a 5-4 record in a strike-shortened 1982 run. So, forced optimism aside, he’s out on wanting to see Burrow with the Bengals.

“I know what it’s like to go to a bottom-feeder team,” he said, plainly. “I’d hate to see that happen to him to be honest. They beat me up. I spent more time at the hospital recuperating from injuries my first three years than I did throwing touchdowns. 

“It was tough.”

Time will tell if Burrow takes Bartowski’s advice, but the fact he’s openly noted he has “leverage” makes it no longer an impossibility, and could leave the Bengals looking for a trade partner. 

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