INDIANAPOLIS— Joe Burrow walked up to podium No. 3, and he pulled up a chair. A lot of questions were coming. Best to take a seat.
“Hello, hello,” Burrow said, leaning forward into the microphone.
The second question, asked by a Bengals beat reporter, was the one everyone in the NFL world was waiting to hear the former LSU quarterback and prospective No. 1 pick answer: If the Bengals draft you No. 1, would you report to play for them?
“Yeah,” Burrow said. “I’m not going to not play. I’m a ballplayer; whoever picks me, I’m going to go show up.”
For the better part of the next 18 minutes, Burrow did his best to dispel speculation that has been swirling around him since he established himself as the likely top pick in this year’s draft: Would he pull an Eli Manning and refuse to play for the Bengals, who have never won a championship?
“I’ll play,” Burrow restated, “for whomever drafts me.”
The speculation surrounding Burrow has largely centered on parsing his comments and actions over the last two months. The awkwardness of the moment when Boomer Esiason presented him with a Bengals helmet during a live CBS broadcast in December. His declining to play in the Senior Bowl, where the Bengals staff was coaching. His texting relationship with Archie Manning, who orchestrated Eli’s trade out of San Diego to New York. Most recently, Burrow told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, “I do have leverage"—but he said on Tuesday he was referring simply to the combine process, and the fact that he will not throw or work out until his pro day.
Burrow tried to make his point in a number of different ways. The Athens, Ohio, native pointed out that if the Bengals drafted him, he could go to his parents’ house for dinner. “Not a lot of pro athletes could do that,” he noted. He said it’s “every kid’s dream to be the No. 1 overall pick.” Perhaps most compelling was when he showed a hint of frustration about the speculation around him not wanting to go to the Bengals, whom he plans to meet with later in the week.
“The only thing I’ve said is I just didn’t want to be presumptuous about the pick,” Burrow said. “So that’s why I have been noncommittal, because I don’t know what is going to happen. They might not pick me; they might fall in love with someone else. So you guys kind of took that narrative and ran with it, but there has never been anything like that from my end.”
Specifically asked if he would try to influence the draft process, like Manning did, Burrow said, “No. Can’t as a rookie. Hopefully I can become a vet and influence that process and have some say in personnel decisions like the veterans do now. Until then, can’t do anything about it.”
While Burrow spoke, Dave Lapham, a former Bengals offensive lineman and current broadcaster for the team, stood and watched in the scrum assembled around his podium inside the Indianapolis Convention Center. He wanted to hear Burrow, he explained, “because he might quite possibly be the future of the franchise.” He liked Burrow’s message.
“Coming from the football family he comes from, I don’t see him sitting out or trying to cause any big waves,” Lapham said. “I think he is a football player, and I think he got that message across.”
He expressed confidence that, if Burrow is the guy the Bengals want, he’ll be playing for them next year. “I think Zac Taylor is a people person. Joe seems to be a people person,” Lapham said. “I don’t think there will be any rubs, concerns or any blips that way.”
Indeed, Burrow put on an engaging show. He showed his confidence, pointing out that he’s not working out at the combine because LSU, which won the national championship, played a month longer than most other teams. He made light of the overreaction to his slightly small nine-inch hand size. “I didn’t have a lot of fumbles,” he made sure to note. Asked about the impact he hopes to make, he asked, “On the field or off the field?” His Heisman speech, which called attention to the hunger problem in his hometown, raised more than half a million for a local food pantry.
Burrow’s self-assured nature has been likened to Browns QB Baker Mayfield, and Burrow said on Tuesday that he “admires” Mayfield’s mentality.
“Coming in, if you are the No. 1 pick, the team that is picking No. 1 is there for a reason,” he said. “There are going to be ups and downs—you’ve just gotta stay steady through the process.”
On Tuesday, this was Burrow trying to steady things in the draft process. He insisted he is not trying to influence how the draft unfolds, hoping that his words silence the dialogue of the last several weeks. But the fact that this speculation exists does affirm the influence that Burrow could wield, and before he got up from podium No. 3, he may have used it in a different way. The last question he received was about A.J. Green, the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver who has an uncertain future in Cincinnati.
“With any rookie quarterback, the more help you can get the better,” Burrow said. “A.J. has been one of the best players at his position for a very long time, and if I am lucky enough to get drafted No. 1 overall, I would like to have him on the roster.”
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