National Football League
Bengals have been vague about Joe Burrow's calf. But there's no reason for concern yet
National Football League

Bengals have been vague about Joe Burrow's calf. But there's no reason for concern yet

Updated Aug. 15, 2023 11:59 a.m. ET

Spare a thought for the most scrutinized muscle group in the National Football League — Joe Burrow's right calf.

The poor old calf, a section of the athletic anatomy no one talks about until something goes wrong. In Burrow's case, it is now forced to carry the burden of all those Cincinnati Bengals hopes and dreams.

On July 27, Burrow pulled up lame while undertaking a scrambling drill during training camp and was carted from the field.

Such a sight is akin to a horror movie for supporters, whatever the injury might turn out to be. This one was particularly worrisome, coming just when Justin Herbert had signed his mega-money deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, making it seem like Burrow was next in line to get inked in the great modern quarterback cashapalooza.


The Bengals were swift to dismiss any kind of worst-case scenario, but haven't said a whole lot more, which has had the effect of turning a scary film into a different kind of cinematic production: a mystery.

Head coach Zac Taylor has his script and he is sticking to it, describing Burrow's recovery time as "several weeks." But does several weeks mean several weeks from late July, or several weeks from the time Taylor is saying and repeating it, or several weeks of the actual regular season? And how many is "several," anyway?

"Several weeks," Taylor told reporters with complete accuracy and zero helpfulness last Friday, "Is several weeks."

Is the Bengals defense good enough to keep them afloat if Burrow is out?

Burrow's health is the Bengals' business and Burrow's. But whenever a team keeps things so coy, it sends the speculation and rumor mill into overdrive — and even more so when it involves such a high-profile and pivotal player as Burrow.

A few scattered bits of insight have framed the narrative on Burrow's injury. Let's begin with the most recent, which was last Friday, in the buildup to the Bengals' preseason tilt against the Green Bay Packers.

Before the game at Paycor Stadium, there was Burrow, on the field, taking part in a throwing session of reasonable length. Obviously, he could have done it anywhere. He could have thrown extra at practice, he could have flung around the pigskin away from prying eyes, he could have done it at home, or … wherever.

But he chose to do it in public, knowing full well how it would be seen and shared and commented upon. The message seemed to be very clear; that there is no sense of disaster, that things are moving forward smoothly. A kind of "hey, look at this, there's nothing to see here."

But football fans like to deal in definitives. They are also aware of the smoke and mirrors that teams use to fool each other and obscure reality.

Was the Burrow pre-game show all part of the plan? Was it meant to reassure fans? Was it to fool early-season opponents into planning for one thing while another will actually take place? Who knows? Taylor wasn't saying.

Asked whether the sight was a sign of progress, the coach said: "No. I think things are good, and he's progressing as he should."

Wait a minute; yes, it was progress — or "no," it wasn't?

The Bengals are well aware that perhaps no player in the entire league is more closely linked with his team's likelihood of success than Burrow with Cincinnati.

The fourth-year QB is at a fascinating juncture of his career, with the possibility of securing the biggest contract ever to overtake Herbert, or perhaps, as he has indicated, showing some contractual flexibility that increases the team's chances of landing a Super Bowl in that time frame.

The most generous and team-friendly concession he can make is not necessarily by cutting back on his payday — Herbert got $52.5 million annually, Lamar Jackson $52 million and Jalen Hurts $51 million — but by replicating Patrick Mahomes and signing for a high number of years.

Burrow is a long-term investment, which is also why there won't be, and shouldn't be, any chances taken with his health for the sale of a little extra action at the beginning of a long campaign.

Receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who had a hip issue last year, was positively insistent on that part of it.

"I just want him to be 100 percent healthy to play," Chase told reporters. "I don't want him rushing nothing, I don't want people in his ear telling him to play at a certain time. I just want him to be healthy."

Ja'Marr Chase wants Bengals to rest Joe Burrow: 'I want him to be healthy'

Once Burrow does return, missing part of the preseason isn't regarded as a concern. He was busy early in the summer and Taylor liked what he saw.

"Joe got more days this July than he has ever had in the NFL," Taylor said. "So I feel really good about the progress we made during those July practices. When he is able to get back, we'll be able to get in the work that we need."

Until then, the mystery continues — not the most spellbinding of tales because the Bengals are trying to defuse the chat where possible. But it's one of the most important plotlines as we head towards the season, because that's the level where Cincinnati and their QB are now at.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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