Could Joe Burrow Actually "Eli Manning" The Bengals?

Photo: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Since, oh, I don’t know, the start of October, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has been viewed as the top odds for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. As the NFL regular season came to pass, we learned that the Cincinnati Bengals would be the team with the first chance to call Burrow’s name at the top of the draft. 

The term often used to describe how a team obtains the No. 1 overall pick is that they are “awarded” it. If you ask me, they should instead be using the term “earned.” 

The Bengals sucked in 2019, and they earned that No. 1 overall pick.

Which brings us to an interesting topic that has developed since the Super Bowl.

The Bengals want Joe Burrow, and that makes sense. They appear to be leaving the Andy Dalton Era in the past, and with that comes a vacancy at the most important position in their franchise. Joe Burrow was the best player in college football last season, and would you look at that, he happens to play said position.

A match made in heaven.

For Cincy.

The Bengals' desire for Burrow is obvious, but does Burrow share that same desire?

Normally when you hear players answer generic, pointless questions during the draft process such as “would you want to play for Team X?” their answer is something along the lines of “I’d be happy to play for whatever team drafts me.” After all, that’s what players are supposed to think, right? They’re not supposed to have a say in where their hard-earned talent gets used once they make it to the professional level. They should just be happy they’ve reached their dream of playing in the NFL, right?

Not fast on all that.

The dream may be just making it to the league, and many guys may be along those lines of thinking -- I am not saying that is a bad thing or a wrong way of thinking at all, it's up to each to choose their mindset and outlook.

But don’t think even rookies don’t have some power of where they play. They do, and Joe Burrow knows it.

"I do have leverage," Burrow told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "[The Bengals] have their process and I have my process. We haven't even gotten to the (NFL Scouting) Combine yet. There's a lot of things that happen leading up to the draft and a lot of information gathered.”

The Bengals have been bad-to-slightly above average for a long time. They did have four straight double-digit win regular seasons between 2012-2015, but in all of them they were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Much of that was during the latter half of the Marvin Lewis Era, and the team has since cleaned house of all that. But they are a franchise that is currently at the bottom of the barrel. They believe they’re on the right track to trend back to prominence, but does Burrow?

Maybe, maybe not. 

I’m not saying that Burrow doesn’t want to play in Cincinnati. He didn’t say that, so there’s no point in stating that as fact. But I am saying that if Burrow were to have a strong desire to not play in Cincinnati, even if they selected him No. 1 overall, there is not only precedence but a price tag that could help him leverage his way out of being a Bengals.

The first case of quarterback draft leverage came when John Elway was selected No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1983 NFL Draft. John, as well as his father Jack, did not like the current Colts heads coach at the time, and using a potential baseball career as his leverage, told the Colts that if they drafted him, he’d go play professional baseball instead.

The Colts drafted Elway only to eventually give into Elway’s demands and traded him to Denver where he had a Hall of Fame career.

Then there was a running back by the name of Bo Jackson who puffed his chest pre-draft and took his leverage the distance. Jackson, who was the best player to pick from in the 1986 NFL Draft, told the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had the No. 1 pick, that if they drafted him, he wouldn’t play a down for them and would play baseball instead. Tampa called Jackson’s bluff by drafting him, and Jackson proceeded to not sign his contract and waited an entire year to be put in the following year’s draft pool where the Raiders drafted him late.

The final famous example is Eli Manning.

In 2004, the San Diego Chargers held the No. 1 overall pick. Manning and his father, Archie, made it very clear that Eli would not play for the Chargers. After selecting Manning with that top pick, the Chargers traded him to New York, where he, too, had a Hall of Fame career.

Burrow has some history on his side, but do we really think that 16 years later something like what happened with Manning could happen again? The man who dealt Manning after drafting him, former Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, believes it can.

“Oh, I think It’ll happen again,” Smith told SB Nation. “I mean why not? History tells us it pops up. Bo Jackson — I don’t know all the circumstances — but that was him saying, ‘I’m not going.’ I certainly do know about the Baltimore one. [Elway’s agent] Marvin Demoff, who was a very powerful type of guy, and [Elway’s] father who hated the coach, Frank Kush. So there’s the basis of it all. It went to the ‘I’m not playing there’ rhetoric and Marvin Demoff said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ And sometimes you can do that.”

And he’s not the only one.

Ernie Accorsi, who was an integral part of both the Elway deal and the Manning deal, first as the GM of the Baltimore Colts, who drafted Elway, and then as the GM of the New York Giants, who traded for Eli, said not only can such a situation happen again, but it’s likely.

“I don’t know why it hasn’t happened since. I don’t think it’s anything more than circumstantial,” Accorsi told SB Nation. “I mean Elway happened in 1983 and [Eli’s] happened in 2004 — that’s 21 years apart. It has to be the circumstances. Players can leverage, I mean they still do it. Giancarlo Stanton did it with the Miami Marlins and the Yankees. Players can still leverage in certain situations.”

Right now there’s no telling what the intentions are between Burrow and a potential relationship with the Cincinnati Bengals. Like Burrow has said himself, a lot will happen between now and draft night -- and the Combine is an important week.

When it comes to Burrow having some demands, I’m not saying it will or won’t happen.

All I’m saying is he might have more power in his situation than you think.