PHOENIX, Ariz. _ The far-flung media moguls, from Carolina to Green Bay, hungrily descended on Bengals head coach Zac Taylor Monday here during his media availability at the NFL meetings. They approached as if he were some kind of Marvel mystic with all the answers to finding that cloudy mountaintop holding the lock first overall pick, historic franchise quarterbacks and other NFL heavenly delights currently reigning at Paycor Stadium in the name of Joe Burrow.
Leave it to Ryan Fitzpatrick and his ethereal beard to check in on the proceedings. Fitzpatrick, the former Bengals quarterback starting his second season as an Amazon NFL analyst, stopped in for Monday night's media reception. It will be recalled that he used his own brand of wizardry ("FitzMagic") to give the Bengals the first draft pick of the 2020s.
As the quarterback of the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick outdueled the Bengals' Andy Dalton in overtime of the next-to-last game of the decade to give the Bengals Burrow. Since then, Fitzpatrick has watched desperation translate to Tampa Bay selling out to get a franchise quarterback (Tom Brady), the Jets trading for one before they even have a deal in place (Aaron Rodgers) and the Ravens grinding their franchise to a halt as one (Lamar Jackson) tweets them to death.
"It's the importance of the position," Fitzpatrick says. "Cincinnati is great because they have one. As his career progresses, they have to pay him and they have to hit on draft picks every year because they can't sign everybody and they'll lose some guys. He's going to become that much more important."
Taylor got that question, too. How in the name of the 2015 Seahawks can you keep it all together once the quarterback is off the rookie deal? Taylor says, think about it for a second.
"If I'm not mistaken, a lot of Super Bowls have been won by guys on their second, third fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh deals, so I feel very comfortable we're going to be able to compete at a high level even with Joe off that initial contract," Taylor said. "You're able to get more players on that deal, but the other side of the coin is the quarterback now has more experience every year that passes and you essentially have a coach on the field who has seen everything that needs to be seen. So that experience really factors in."
Fitzpatrick suggests that's why the Bengals aren't going away once they give Burrow the big deal, in large part, because he and the coach fit.
"What I like about Zac is he can re-invent his offense every week and he's got a quarterback that can play different styles," Fitzpatrick said. "I think Zac would be the first to say when you have a quarterback like that, he covers up your warts, too."
MORE FITZ: By the way, Fitzpatrick, who lives 30 minutes from the Arizona Biltmore, the site of the meetings, loves the TV gig.
"It was the natural progression," Fitzpatrick said. "What do you do when you retire? I don't know. What do I know? Football. For me, it's a dream scenario. Travel Wednesday, work Thursday, home Friday, weekend with the family and keep the relationships going I've had the last 17 years in the league."
QB FACTORY: With the media wondering how the Bengals nailed the Burrow pick, Taylor said it all starts at the top with one-time Dartmouth quarterback and current Bengals president Mike Brown.
"We've got as many quarterback minds in our building as humanely possible. You've got Mike Brown, No. 1. You've got (director of player personnel) Duke Tobin, you've got (director of college scouting) Mike Potts, you've got myself, you've got (offensive coordinator) Brian Callahan, you've got (quarterbacks coach) Dan Pitcher," Taylor said. "(Tight ends coach) James Casey even played quarterback back at Rice. (Assistant wide receivers coach) Brad Kragthorpe played quarterback at LSU. So we've got so many guys that played the position and know what it looks like that we felt very comfortable with our decision bringing in the quarterbacks we brought in."
O-BROWN ON O-LINE: The funny thing is that not only did the Bengals know left tackle Orlando Brown was out there on the market before they signed him, but before all that they would talk about him as a comp when it came to what they needed at that spot, via either the draft or free agency.
"I never really thought it was going to be Orlando Brown. But that was an example of somebody we talked about," Taylor said. "He's a guy that came up in conversation a lot, as in, 'We need somebody like Orlando Brown.'
"How do you acquire those guys when you're picking as late as we pick in the first round? It's usually through trading draft capital, it's paying somebody big money in free agency, which to an extent we did. For the way it fell out for us, he wanted to be in Cincinnati. It worked out where we were able to get him."
GREAT SCOTT: The Bengals raided the team that beat them in last year's Super Bowl for starting safety Nick Scott. Although Taylor was once Rams head coach Sean McVay's quarterbacks coach, he stayed away during free agency to ask questions. But he got the right answers after the deal was done.
"There's kind of a fine line you walk in free agency where you're not sure if the other team is trying to bring them back and to what extent it is. So you're cautious to reach out and tip your hand on your negotiations with the guy," Taylor said. "So I stayed away from that.
"After the fact, I had a lot of guys with the Rams say 'This guy was awesome. He's exactly what you want in the locker room.' I really saw his play grow from the playoffs in '21 to the season in '22, and just getting a chance to visit with him when he came for his free agency visit, visiting with him and his wife and his newborn baby after he signed, I just know more than ever that he's a great fit for what we wanted in that room."
SPLIT SECONDS: Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni explained to the coaches Sunday why his club has proposed putting split seconds on the clock and while Taylor hasn't fully immersed himself into the issue, he could see how it could help in one hypothetical situation.
"When you're at five seconds at the end of the half and the ball's on the five-yard line and you want to throw a quick fade with no timeouts," Taylor said. "Are there 5.9 seconds or are there 5.0 seconds on the clock? If there were six seconds on the clock, I'd probably call that quick goal-line fade knowing that if it's incomplete we can kick the field goal. My nervousness always lies in, 'What if the ball gets tipped up in the air and still falls incomplete, but it wasted another second?' Had I known there were 5.0 as opposed to 5.9, then maybe that helps you take another shot there."
BON VOYAGE: Naturally, folks on the beat in Atlanta and Carolina did their due diligence on their new safeties with Jessie Bates III going to the Falcons and Vonn Bell moving to Charlotte. Taylor put the perfect bow on their Bengals careers when they asked for a scouting report. Note how Taylor talks about what they mean to him as people, not just players. That gives you a window into why Taylor has got some gravitas with these guys.
"They got to a price where we just couldn't be in the mix and I'm really happy for Jessie that's how it played out to be honest with you and what he meant to our team for five years," Taylor said. "What he meant to me personally as a guy that was there before I got there, bought into everything we want through some really hard times, played his highest level football on two consecutive AFC Championship game runs and had an interception in the Super Bowl for us. He was a leader every step of the way. Really proud of Jessie, happy that he got the contract that he got."
As for Bell, well, no surprise his daily dawn workouts have become a lasting legacy.
"Shows up at 6 a.m., first one in the building, was always transparent with me," Taylor said. "Any time we had a one-on-one conversation, I knew I was going to get what I needed from him. Whether I wanted to hear it or not, he was going to be truthful with me. That was good. You need that from some veteran players. He's just a winner. He's won everywhere he's been. At Ohio State, top recruit, won championships. New Orleans, played for a lot of NFC championships. Came to us and played in the Super Bowl, multiple championships. So he'll bring that mentality to Carolina."