INDIANAPOLIS – Joe Burrow is coming out of fake “retirement” just as Eli Manning is hanging up his cleats.
More notably, Burrow isn’t planning to follow Manning’s lead by shaking up the top of an NFL Draft with a trade demand.
Burrow squashed (for now) the idea that he will refuse to play for the Bengals, who hold the No. 1 overall pick. Manning forced a trade from the Chargers to the Giants in 2004 and just wrapped a Hall of Fame-caliber 16-year career in one uniform.
“I’m not going to not play,” Burrow, the Heisman Trophy-winning LSU quarterback and consensus top prospect in the class, said Tuesday at the NFL Combine. “I’m a ballplayer. Whoever picks me, I’m going to show up.”
Just 12 hours earlier, Burrow joked that he was “considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands.” Burrow’s hands measured nine inches across, smallest for a first-round quarterback since 2008 but only ¼ inch smaller than Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and 2018 No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield.
Hand size – and its impact on draft status – is a microcosm for the over-dissection at the Combine, especially when a quarterback threw for 60 touchdowns and six interceptions as Burrow did during his breakout final season. He will not throw for coaches and scouts at the Combine.
“If it’s a glaring issue on film with turnovers, yeah, it’s probably an issue,” Burrow said. “But I didn’t have a lot of fumbles or anything like that, so I just tried to make a little joke about it.”
Burrow transferred from Ohio State to LSU and was projected as a late-round draft pick just eight months ago. Playing in Louisiana and attending the Manning Passing Academy, he said he built a relationship with the state’s football royalty – receiving gameday texts from dad Archie and speaking by phone a few times to brothers Peyton and Cooper. He has not heard from Eli, who could best relate to his position.
Burrow played high school football in Ohio but grew up as a “bandwagon” fan of the Vikings, Saints and Browns. The mismanaged Bengals have not won a playoff game during Burrow’s lifetime, their last postseason win coming in 1991, but two of his best friends are Bengals fans.
“It’s 2 hours, 15 minutes from my house,” Burrow said. “I can go home for dinner if I want to. Not a lot of pro athletes can do that.”
So, why has Burrow been reluctant to publicly embrace the match with the Bengals? Two years ago, Baker Mayfield practically begged the Browns to make him the No. 1 pick because he wanted the challenge of being a franchise-changer.
“I just didn’t want to be presumptuous about the pick,” Burrow said. “That’s why I’ve been non-committal because I don’t know what’s going to happen. They might not pick me. They might fall in love with someone else.”
When he meets with Bengals brass later this week, he will ask the same question he is asking in every team interview: Where can I improve?
“Of course I want to be the first pick,” Burrow said. “That’s every kid’s dream.”