Bengals were right to let Joe Burrow be the leader of the franchise

Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers talks with Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Joe Burrow #9 of the LSU Tigers talks with Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals embraced Joe Burrow as the team leader after drafting him first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. In contrast, the Jacksonville Jaguars seem intent to hide and protect Trevor Lawrence as Tebow Mania ensues.

Go back to Aug. 29 of last year — Joe Burrow was reading a statement about systemic racism and police brutality. It was a powerful moment but it also highlighted something to Bengals fans. Only 128 days after being the Bengals’ first-round selection, Burrow was front and center, anointed the immediate leader of the group.

It came naturally to Burrow, as his character and drive meant stepping in as ‘face of the franchise’ wasn’t daunting. What it did show was that the ownership was happy to allow Burrow to become the team spokesperson. Even with a roster containing numerous high-profile veterans, the reciprocal trust was clear.

Fast forward a year and you couldn’t ask for a starker contrast in Jacksonville. They, too, found their quarterback of the future with the first pick of the draft. However, mere weeks after Trevor Lawrence was selected, ‘Tebow Time’ came to Duval.

Urban Meyer, clearly looking for familiarity as he arrived in the NFL following a prestigious college coaching career, went back to his former quarterback at Florida, Tim Tebow. The failed NFL signal-caller attempts to resume his NFL career at the age of 33, albeit as a tight end. Immediately, the focus has shifted away from Lawrence and on to Tebow.

While Meyer may be searching for someone he trusts to be his ear in the locker room, Tebow seems a misguided selection. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had a rough opening to his coaching career but Burrow appears to be his confidant, a vital connection between management and staff. Surely, Lawrence would have hoped for the same from his head coach?

It wasn’t all smooth sailing in Cincy for Joe Burrow and the Bengals though.

There were clashes with veterans (the Carlos Dunlap whiteboard incident and AJ Green issues to name but a few). Throughout, Burrow and other young voices in the team have been steadfast in their backing of Taylor. That support has no doubt helped Taylor earn additional time with ownership.

For the Jaguars, veterans are less likely to relate to Tebow than they would Lawrence. Having been away from the game for so long, dabbling in baseball and a TV career, will current members of the Jaguars welcome him with open arms?

Tebow’s role is likely to convey the Meyer mentality but the message could seem hollow when coming from a player holding a novelty roster spot. For Lawrence, it creates doubt that he may not be the key voice in the new Jags hierarchy.

Of course, Burrow must continue to prove himself on the field but the intangibles he has off the gridiron are unquestionable. The faith shown by both Zac Taylor and owner Mike Brown to allow Burrow to become a ready-made figurehead looks like a shrewd move.

Burrow excites the fans and seemingly his peers. He was heavily involved in free-agent recruiting, present for the Jeff Ruby’s steak dinner that landed Riley Reiff.

Perhaps Lawrence will become the same guy for Jacksonville but it’s difficult not to feel that the Tebow signing has moved the focus away from the young signal-caller and on to a player who projects to be a third-string tight end.

The careers of both quarterbacks are likely to crossover continually. The earliest such meeting comes in Week 4 of this season and it’s the lone primetime game on Cincinnati’s schedule in 2021. Nobody knows who will come out on top but from a Bengals perspective, it feels like they made the right choice in Burrow.

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Giving him the responsibility of commanding the locker room from such a young age was a risk of sorts but it appears to have paid off. Whether the same will be said about the Tebow/Lawrence situation is unknown but trusted voices close to the Jaguars appear skeptical.