After signing his three-year extension through 2019 for reportedly $15.5 million Wednesday afternoon, Bengals running back Giovani Bernard twirled the key chain to his 2009 minivan and made some plans.
"I need some coolant. The air conditioner isn't working," Bernard said.
It's always good when one of the good guys wins and who is a better guy than Bernard?
He watched his mother collapse and die in the final stages of thyroid cancer when he was seven. He saw his father lose his dry-cleaning business a few years later. He survived a South Florida poverty of sagging ceilings in fringe apartments and late-night escapes from evictions with an indomitable will, a relentless father, and kindness of friends like T.J. Wilson, his fellow nine-year-old baseball player on the Boca Jets whose mother let him stay with them three or four nights a week for years.
"It starts with my family and my closest friends," Bernard said. "I've had my heartaches. I've had my speed bumps. But this moment right here is not about the money. It's about having a future and having so much more after football. For me, it's really a dream come true for me and my family."
The Bernards never quit. While Gio became one of the best backs in the country at the University of North Carolina and went No. 37 to the Bengals in the 2013 draft (thank you Carson Palmer, Hue Jackson, and the Oakland Raiders), his father Yvens built back another dry cleaning business so well and strong with his notorious work ethic that Regal Cleaners in Fort Lauderdale became Bernard Cleaners a few years ago.
Yvens Bernard, a Haitian immigrant like Gio's late mom, works every day. Sundays. Up at 3 a.m. In at 4 a.m. Out at 10 p.m. He has only seen Gio play once in the NFL and it was when the game was in, of course, Miami. Gio's older brother, Yvenson, knew the only way his father would ever see him play is if he installed a big screen TV in the store
"He never wanted to take anything from anybody," Giovani Bernard said a few years ago. "He never wanted to be hand-fed. All he wanted was to be able to provide for himself and his kids and that was it….He'll never stop working."
So when Giovani Bernard signed his deal Wednesday, he had a plan. He told his father to watch ESPN and to call him when he saw something about him.
Since it is the offseason down there, Yvens is coming into the store at 5:30a.m. In the late afternoon, about three hours before he leaves at 7 p.m., he saw the news of the extension on the scroll at the bottom of the screen.
"I was shaking," Yvens Bernard said. "I'm still shaking. I'm so proud of my son. He has worked so hard. I thought this would happen, but not so soon. I thought next year. But not today."
Tomorrow will be no different than today for the 57-year-old Yvens. In at 5:30. Out at 7. And he gave his youngest some advice.
"It's his extension. Not my extension. I still have to work," Yvens said. "I told him he only gets that $15 million at the end of the contract. At the end of three years."
Like father, like son. Tomorrow he goes back to work, too.
"We have to pick up where we left off," Bernard said. "We have a lot of great players and we've added some great, great players to this team. The biggest thing for us right now is just to create good chemistry during the OTAs process."
Bernard seemed to think about his contract as much as his father.
"Yesterday was the second time I talked about contracts with my agent," he said. "The first time was right after the season. Yesterday he said, 'OK, I think we found the right deal.'"
And it looks like one of those classic good-deal-for-both-parties.
The Bengals used the deal to continue to cultivate the core of their roster. It marks the third time in the last two months that the Bengals have moved to keep a starter or regular from their 2013 draft for multiple years.
Last month they inked new starting safety Shawn Williams to a four-year extension and just before the April draft they exercised the 2017 option year on Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert.
And for Bernard, it gives him a top ten deal at his position, is short enough to give him a shot at another big deal, and it allows him to stay with a contender.
"It's a dream come true," Bernard said. "It just never entered my mind leaving the orange and black and white.
"I'm still young when the contract ends," Bernard said. "So I'm not a thirty something old running back with bad whatever. I'm still young. Still in my prime."
And he's here.
"I want to win. I know this team. I know the people around here," Bernard said. "I know the city, the people in the front office. Everybody around here is just such good people ….. As soon as my agent said something about contracts, I said I want to be here. I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of something big here."
The ultra-quick and elusive Bernard, a fearless fan favorite with breath-taking moves, started just one game last season and his 154 carries were the second fewest of the league's top 23 rushers. But his 4.7 yards per rush were fourth best and his 5.9 yards per touch were the most by a running back combining for at least 1,200 yards rushing and receiving.
The 5-9, 205-pound Bernard, who won't turn 25 until the week of the eleventh game, has already complied reams of highlight tape. He set the club record for a running back with 128 receiving yards last year on his 24th birthday against the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football and as a rookie he set the club record for a running back with 56 catches.
Bernard's versatility as a pass catcher out of the slot and backfield is a major weapon for quarterback Andy Dalton, a stable that also has perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green in place through 2019.
According to spotrac.com, the $5.2 million makes Bernard the 10th highest paid back in the league by annual average and the youngest in the top ten.
The site lists perennial Pro Bowlers Adrian Peterson at $14 million per year, Jamaal Charles' at $9 million, and LeSean McCoy at $8 million as the top three. They're followed by Jonathan Stewart ($7.3), Doug Martin ($7.1), Lamar Miller ($6.5), Chris Ivory ($6.4), DeMarco Murray ($6.25) and Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott ($6.2).
Bernard is the only one in the top ten with less than four seasons of experience and younger than 25. Four of them finished with more yards from scrimmage last season, but Bernard's nearly six yards per touch makes him one of the league's more feared skill players.
Before the Bernard deal, spotrac.com had the Bengals about $7,000 over the $166 million salary cap. In order to extend Bernard and Shawn Williams, they have dipped into their annual rollover from the cap.
But the Bengals know they got plenty of bang for their buck for Bernard. They know he's one of the good guys and how well he fits in. After he signed his contract with Bengals vice president Paul Brown, Bernard moved to the next office and wanted to make sure he waved and said thank you to Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn even though she was in a meeting.
Yet Bernard was clearly a priority Wednesday and she had a big smile when she left the meeting and came out in the hallway to chat. Paul Brown then took Bernard down the hall to his father and Bengals president Mike Brown shook Bernard's hand as Bernard told him it was a dream come true.
Then it was time to tell his father.
"I have no idea," Bernard said of what he thought the reaction would be. "It's tough to make him smile some times. But I think this will make him smile a little bit. It's kind of like a draft day process all over again. I still remember draft day like it was yesterday. That's one of those highlight moments in my life that I'll be able to share with my family."
The reaction after his father saw the crawl was maybe better than expected.
"I'm still shaking," said Yvens, who revealed he's coming to Paul Brown Stadium for a few games this season.
Cincinnati Bengals sign RB Giovanni Bernard to a 3 year extension through 2019.