According to Forbes, nine of the NFL’s top 10 highest-paid players for 2023 are quarterbacks. Joe Burrow is among them, and maybe you’ve heard? He’s rather wealthy. He signed a five-year contract for $275 million last week with the Cincinnati Bengals for an all-time record average of $55 million per year.
Not only that, but $219 million of Burrow’s total is guaranteed.
So let’s grab our NFL crystal ball.
It was one game. It was one ugly combination of 60minutes involving the Atlanta Falcons of Desmond Ridder hosting the Carolina Panthers of Bryce Young to open their seasons Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Mostly, it was one moment to study the 24-year-old Ridder in his second NFL season and the 22-year-old Young as a rookie in the league and ask the following: Which of these quarterbacks making his debut as a full-time starter will come the closest to resembling Burrow sooner rather than later in the pocketbook?
Neither of them.
You know, if you go by Ridder and the Falcons surviving their overall ineptness on offense enough for a 24-10 victory. They also were aided by Young and the Panthers self-destructing.
While Ridder finished with some of the most deceptive statistics in NFL history after he completed 15 of 18 passes for a Falcons team otherwise allergic to the forward pass, Young’s numbers told the truth: He was dreadful. A perfect passer rating in the NFL is 158.3, and he finished at 48.8.
Such things happen when you’re Young, and you throw a couple of interceptions (both mindless) while completing 20 of your 38 passes for a ridiculous average of 3.8 yards per throw.
Actually, forget the crystal ball.
Let’s ask Falcons safety Jessie Bates about his thoughts on Ridder and Young in conjunction to Burrow, the Bengals’ fourth-year stater who has spent his previous three NFL seasons taking the team to a Super Bowl, two AFC Championship Games and five playoff victories. That latter number matched the overall amount for the 55-year-old franchise prior to his arrival.
Ridder was the Falcons’ third-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. He signed a four-year rookie deal worth $5.36 million. When the team was eliminated from playoff contention, he started the last four games of the season.
Then there was Young, the overall pick in the league’s draft this spring after he signed a four-year contract with the Panthers for $37.96 million.
Even though Young is much closer right now than Ridder to Burrow in finances, what about later?
All Bates knew Sunday is that he grabbed both of Young’s errant throws, and there also was this: He spent all five of his previous NFL seasons with the Bengals, and he studied Burrow up close and personal.
Bates has a clear winner from Sunday between Ridder and Young. Not surprisingly, it’s not the guy he picked off in the first quarter for the Falcons to take a 7-0 lead on the subsequent drive. His second grab came in the third quarter when the Falcons proceeded to tie the game at 10-10 on a field goal along the way to a couple of game-clinching touchdowns during the fourth quarter.
“I don’t ever like to compare guys, because everybody’s situation is a little different, but the biggest difference is, I’m not going to worry about what Bryce Young is going to do, but for Des, he did a really good job of not turning the ball over today,” Bates told me after the game, and he was correct.
It’s just that, with Ridder dinking passes here and there — while the Falcons continued their obsession under third-year head coach Arthur Smith with using the likes of Bijan Robinson (10 carries for 56 yards) and Tyler Allgeier (15 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns) to mimic the NFL’s ground-oriented era of Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange — the Falcons had only 7 yards passing with five minutes left to play in the third quarter.
Ridder forshadowed goofiness to come when he dropped back on the first play of the afternoon, attempted a pass and had it batted into the air.
He caught it.
At the end of the game, Ridder finished with more receptions (one) than Drake London, the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver.
There also was this: While Robinson was targeted six times for passes, the combination of tight end Kyle Pitts and London were targeted just a total of four times.
Bates still applauded Ridder for his resiliency. Despite his mobility, he was sacked four times behind a supposedly improved offensive line that wasn’t facing the New Steel Curtain or something.
“I talk to Des. He’s my locker mate, and I’m always telling him, ‘Manage the game. Manage the game,’” Bates told me, recalling how Ridder eventually completed a 34-yard bomb to Pitts down the stretch for the Falcons’ final touchdown.
“It didn’t look good in that first half for Des. It didn’t,” Bates continued. “He had the big play that sealed the deal at the end of the game. That’s what good quarterbacks do. They don’t turn it over, and they make the right decisions, and they manage the game really well, and I think Dez did a good job of that.”
Burrow does a great job of that.
And he can pass (and pass and pass), too.