Heisman winner Joe Burrow galvanizes food pantry donations with acceptance speech

Marcus Musings: Super Bowl, Joe Burrow and what the Bengals can learn from the Reds

Football season is over, so it’s time to talk about football… 

  • I don’t have any real hot takes on the Super Bowl. It was an entertaining, well-played game by two good teams. A fullback scored a touchdown, and a great quarterback led an impressive comeback in the fourth quarter. Some of the commercials were even good, unlike the last few years. And I watched it with my dad for the first time in probably about 19 years so that was cool, too. 
  • OK, here’s one more: Super Bowl LIV was a great example of the two general ways to build a team. You can build a great roster through the draft (and, increasingly, some smart free agent signings) and hope an average quarterback is good enough to get you there, or you can get a great quarterback and hope he can elevate an average roster. Which of these approaches is superior is up for debate, but most teams would be wise to commit to one or the other. The benefit of trying it the superior roster way is you might stumble into a great quarterback anyway, but a great quarterback can overcome a lot of issues over a span of many years… if you can find one. 
  • Also worth noting: Both the Super Bowl champs and the best team from the regular season (Baltimore) did something the Bengals did not: Take an OK quarterback situation and aggressively work to improve it without compromising the current team. 
  • Now for the story that will dominate the offseason between now and the draft: All this talk about Joe Burrow not wanting to go to the Bengals has really aggravated me, not because it is possible he feels that way but because as far as I can tell it is completely an invention of the media. And not just fire-starters like Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless, one of the talking heads they seem to churn through now at ESPN or some random radio guy in Pittsburgh or Miami or Birmingham but even a smart guy like Dan Patrick who should know better. 
  • If Burrow does have trepidation (and I am not saying he does it doesn’t or trying to imply I know anything inside about his thought process because I don’t) there is good reason. If he feels the need to vet them as much as they are going to vet him, that is absolutely fine. Both sides should make sure there is going to be a fit, but there is a chasm between doing due diligence and “pulling an Eli.” 
  • As Burrow’s father has said in at least one radio interview, he knows when you’re going to be drafted that high you’re probably going to a bad team. Is there an indication the Dolphins are a better place to land? When was their last playoff appearance? Didn’t they just acquire a first-round QB and do absolutely nothing with him? Is their roster any better than Cincinnati’s? Not that it matters today, but they haven’t even been to the Super Bowl as recently as the Bengals, and they had Dan Marino for 15 years. (Of course another red flag is the Dolphins employed Zac Taylor for multiple seasons.) 
  • If I’m Burrow, the No. 1 question I have for the Bengals is how committed they are to a coaching staff that, particularly on offense, has no track record of success or even much experience. Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan weren’t accomplished at their previous jobs, and they just promoted a first-time quarterbacks coach from within. Meanwhile, Burrow has seen first hand the difference between a good plan and a flawed plan on offense.  
  • If Burrow meets with the Bengals and tells them something along the lines of, “Look, if you take me I’m going to show up every day, work my tail off and do my best to get these guys to follow me to the promised land over the next five years, but know that I am not making any promises to stay here beyond that if certain efforts aren’t made to maximize our chances of winning,” would anyone have have an issue with that? I don’t think so. They should be happy to hear that, but if that is a turnoff to Bengals brass and they trade the pick instead, hey, maybe everyone will be better off in the long run. 
  • Whatever the case, can we let this develop on its own rather than create a narrative out of thin air in the media? Thanks. 
  • Along those lines, the questions about the overall organization have been blown out of proportion lately from where I’m sitting. I do have qualms about some of their decisions (at the time and obviously in hindsight), but the fact is they have built two distinct multi-year playoff teams since 2005 with the second one having a much better roster overall than the first. 
  • Have they mismanaged the end of that run? Yes, although some (most?) of the moves they made to get here made sense at the time but didn’t work out. The ironic thing about the offensive line blowing up is they had a succession plan in place with multiple high draft picks to take over when their tackles left, but those guys turned out to be busts, and I don’t think they are the only team that doesn’t believe in breaking the bank for interior linemen. (Why they went from drafting very well from about 2010-14 to pretty poorly since I could not tell you, though I remember someone suggesting the changes in the last CBA hurt them because they were good at developing players and that became more difficult with less practice time.) 
  • Carson Palmer saying the Bengals aren’t committed to winning the Super Bowl is ridiculous. Of course Mike Brown wants to win the Super Bowl. Are all of their beliefs about how you win a Super Bowl correct? Probably not. Palmer’s main complaint seems to be they wouldn’t sign more free agents. Well, for a long time free agents seemed to bust more often than hit in the NFL, but that is changing. Recently the Rams, Jaguars and 49ers provided good examples of how finding the right free agents to help make a leap in competitiveness in one year. The Bengals are correct in believing the best way to win is to scout and draft well, develop your players and reward the ones who are good by signing them for the market rate, something they have done numerous times. However, sometimes you have to adjust. Sometimes you need to make exceptions, especially now when the last few drafts have gone so badly and you’ve basically been rebuilding already for two years without trying to be. 
  • The Reds, to their credit, seem to have realized this. Their plan to build through the draft and with international signings was sound (and even more necessary for a small-market team in baseball as opposed to the socialist paradise of the NFL). It worked from 2010-13 but has failed spectacularly since. They also mismanaged their teardown in ‘14 and ‘15. They seem to have taken a look at what they have (including the minors, which appear to have a lot of solid prospects but few, if any, potential stars), decided it isn’t good enough and are trying to build in a different way. Who knows if it will work, but you have to applaud the effort (unless they have another terrible start and then you can boo all you want).
  • By the way, the knock on Carson Palmer coming out of USC was that he didn’t have the mental makeup of the type of clubhouse leader you want your QB to be, and history has borne that out. His ability to find open receivers and throw them the ball made the Bengals and Cardinals better, but I’m not sure there is any evidence he had a positive impact in those locker rooms. And of course he quit on the Bengals and they got better without him with a guy who lacks some of his physical qualities and isn’t much of a leader either. So take his point of view with a grain of salt. Like a lot of takes that go viral these days, it lines up more conveniently with perception than reality. 

“Marcus Musings” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to marcus.hartman@cmg.com or find us on Twitter or Facebook.  

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About the Author

Marcus Hartman
Marcus Hartman
Marcus Hartman has been a digital sports columnist and reporter at Cox Media Group Ohio since 2016. 
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