The Bengals have cemented themselves as championship contenders the past two years, reaching the Super Bowl during the 2021 season and AFC Championship Game the next.
They've done so behind a cast of stellar young playmakers, but owner Mike Brown recognizes a bigger bill for the team's premier talent will soon come due.
"We have some good players that need to be fed," Brown said at the team's annual luncheon on Monday, per ESPN. "That's a challenge. It's mathematical. You get a bag of corn and you have 10 hogs. Well, you're going to put that out to them. The bag's going to be empty. And some of them aren't going to get it."
Cincinnati has instrumental pieces on both sides of the ball with waning contracts. Linebacker Logan Wilson is in the final year of his rookie deal, and defensive tackle D.J. Reader, who has a team-high $15.5 million cap number this season, is also a pending free agent.
Most eyes, however, are on the offense, where quarterback Joe Burrow's potential extension is a topic of discussion after the team exercised his fifth-year rookie option over the offseason. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, two-thirds of his tremendous wide receiver trio, are both entering their final seasons under contract. The other third, Ja’Marr Chase, will be up for a fifth-year option next offseason, as Burrow was months ago, but he will also be eligible for an extension at that time.
The foremost domino of them all is the QB, and Brown is choosing to keep things close to the chest regarding those negotiations.
"I have bound myself not to talk about Joe (Burrow's) contract," he said, per the team website. "I don't think it's helpful for the negotiations. The other side has made the same commitment and they have not broken it."
Given what Burrow means to the Bengals, it's possible the behind-closed-doors discussions are revolving around the ever-changing top of the quarterback market.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts set the new bar in April with a five-year contract that paid him a record $51 million per year. The Ravens' Lamar Jackson topped that number by receiving a new deal with a per-year average of $52 million just 10 days later. There's also Burrow's fellow 2020 first-rounder to consider -- Justin Herbert has had ongoing negotiations for a big-time extension of his own with the Chargers.
Whenever the Bengals and Burrow find an agreeable pact, the contract is sure to have ripples throughout the rest of Cincinnati's negotiations, regardless of where it falls in the QB-money pecking order.
"We thought if we had a little more room it would help us with other situations," Brown said of the restructure. "Joe (Mixon) understood that. He handled himself well. I like Joe. I think he's a good player. He has been here and been an important player for a long time and we asked him to step up and help us with the overall situation we have and he did."
However those decisions ahead play out, each one will hopefully bring the Bengals a step closer to Brown's elusive, ultimate goal: bringing a Super Bowl to Cincinnati.
"I'm not looking for accolades," he said. "I want the team to be awarded. And if I were handed a trophy, I'd have it for about two seconds and then I'd hand it to (head coach) Zac (Taylor). And then Zac would do whatever he did. I would like that two seconds. I don't care so much about stuff like that as I just actually want to get it done. I'll know and remember when it's done. And that's the lifetime ambition."