Matt’s Take: Free Agency Madness, Opening Day; Scott Burson and Sam Smathers join Matt’s Take

By the time you are reading this article, I am sure a lot more has happened in free agency, but at the current time, Cincinnati has waved goodbye to many fan favorites. The post Matt’s Take: Free Agency Madness, Opening Day; Scott Burson and Sam Smathers join Matt’s Take appeared first on The Cincinnati Herald.

Matt’s Take: Free Agency Madness, Opening Day; Scott Burson and Sam Smathers join Matt’s Take

By Matthew McAdow

Herald Contributor

Matthew McAdow. Photo provided

By the time you are reading this article, I am sure a lot more has happened in free agency, but at the current time, Cincinnati has waved goodbye to many fan favorites. The following Bengals have signed with new teams:

• Samaje Perine – Denver Broncos (I am going to greatly miss Samaje, as he always took advantage of every snap he was given.)

• Vonn Bell – Carolina Panthers (This one hurts, and it hurts a lot, as I didn’t expect this.)

• Hayden Hurst – Carolina Panthers (This one hurts as well. Hayden brought so much energy. He will now be joining Bell, as well as former Bengal Andy Dalton in Carolina.)

• Jessie Bates – Atlanta Falcons (We all knew this day was coming. I am happy for Jessie, and you can’t blame him for leaving for his massive contract.)

As much as it hurts seeing fan favorites leave the team, I trust the front office of the Bengals. With two amazing seasons in a row, Cincinnati understands what has to be done in order to be successful next season.  Cincinnati did however find a way to re-sign Germaine Pratt, which is huge for the depth at the linebacker position. 

As I am writing this, Eli Apple remains unsigned and against many opinions surrounding Cincinnati, I truly hope to see Apple return to the Queen City if the right deal can be made. 

With all of the departures, Cincinnati needs to attack free agency or the draft and fill the needs of the offensive line, cornerback, tight end, running back and safety positions. There are many holes on this team now and to retain success in this league, Cincinnati will need to find quality players to fill these gaps. 

Welcome to the Jungle

Protecting Joe Burrow at all costs is exactly what Cincinnati needs to do. Two years in a row, our offensive line has held the team back from the Lombardi Trophy. 

The Bengals front office obviously is putting emphasis on the front line again, as it signed former Chief Orlando Brown to a four-year deal. Orlando is a four-time Pro Bowl left tackle and has spent time protecting both Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. He becomes the 17th-highest paid tackle in the league and racks in a $31 million signing bonus. 

Our current offensive line consists of Orlando Brown, Cordell Volson, Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and Jonah Williams/La’el Collins. Frank Pollack, let’s eat some glass!

Opening Day

March 30 is right around the corner. I can almost hear the parade, and I can picture myself at Holy Grail, as my wife is complaining that we are down there seven hours early already. 

Just like many other Reds fans, I wait the entire year just to get to this day, and the day has nearly arrived. With Opening Day comes the roster cuts, as spring training comes to a close. 

This week, despite great numbers from many prospects, the Reds reassigned Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Matt McLain and others to Triple-A Louisville. While this might feel confusing, fans must look at the big picture and understand the reasoning behind this. 

While I would love to see them starting the season in the big leagues, we need them to get the most at-bats as possible, and if they were playing up, they wouldn’t get much time on the field. Beginning the season in Triple-A also doesn’t mean they won’t play in the majors for the entire season either. Service time, patience and many other factors play into the reasoning behind a player not being “called up” right away. Trust the Reds front office, as the future is more than bright, and we have been able to witness that first-hand during the Cactus League!


As we are approaching the beginning of the MLB season, the Reds roster is becoming slimmer and slimmer. While there are still some “question marks” regarding who will be the official starters, below are my Opening Day projections as of today:

• 1B-Joseph Daniel Votto (Based on him returning to the Spring Training lineup, I think Joey will be ready come March 30.)

• C-Tyler Stephenson

• 2B-Jonathan India

• SS-Jose Barrero (I think Jose claims the position over Kevin Newman, but I think both of them will have a short-string should they play poorly.)

• 3B-Spencer Steer (Spencer has a few errors this spring training, but I think he is more than capable of playing this position.)
• LF-Jake Fraley

• CF-Will Benson (I think Will makes his case for center field with Senzel injured.  I think he beats out Friedl and others.)

• RF-Wil Myers (I can’t wait to watch him play in Great American Ball Park.)

Rotation: Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, Luke Weaver (Let’s hope his injury is minor), Luis Cessa/Brandon Williamson/Connor Overton.

Bullpen: Alexis Diaz, Lucas Sims, Tony Santillan, Buck Farmer, Ian Gibaut, Tejay Antone (Get healthy soon, Captain Hook), Fernando Cruz, Reiver Sanmartin, Joel Kuhnel and Alex Young

Sam Smathers, Joe Burrow’s youth football coach. Courtesy of the Smathers family

Scott Burson & Sam Smathers join Matt’s Take

This week, I was kindly joined by both Scott Burson and Sam Smathers for a Q&A. Scott and Sam have been in many headlines recently, as their new book, “From Bulldog to Bengal,” will soon be released. 

Scott is a university professor and  author. He previously spent time as a senior managing editor in the 1990s. Sam was Joe Burrow’s youth football coach from third through sixth grade. He has a personal relationship with the Burrow family and remains connected with Joe, as they both are Athens locals. 

Talking football as well as their new book was a joy this week, and I was glad to get the opportunity to “get the word out” regarding their work. The book is available to pre-order now at You can also pre-order your book on Amazon! 

Q&A with Scott Burson

Q: How long did it take you to write this book, and what inspired you to share Joe’s story?

A: The research and writing took about six months. I interviewed around 60 Athens County people, including family, friends, teammates, coaches and teachers. There are nearly 800 citations in the book, but the book is written for the average fan. It covers Joey’s early years all the way up to the 2022 record-breaking season.

While all of the on-field accomplishments are included, the major theme from cover to cover is family, friendships and community. The book explores how these lifelong relationships have helped form Joe into the leader, player and person he is today. 

Joe’s parents, Jimmy and Robin, have been very supportive of the book. They sat down for several hours of interviews, provided photographs and read through the manuscript as I was writing it last summer. A portion of the sales will go to the Joe Burrow Foundation.”

Q: Can you tell me a story from the book?

A: Well, there are so many anecdotes and stories in the book. When I was on Dan Hoard’s Bengals Booth Podcast (, he told me that he plans on using many of these stories in future radio broadcasts.

One I really like is when Joe and his friends were playing travel baseball in elementary school. They rarely lost a tournament, but on this particular day they were convinced that they had been cheated by the umpires out of a championship. When the Athens All-Stars were presented their runner-up trophies, one kid threw his in the dugout trash can. Another one broke it over his knee.

Joe, on the other hand, was completely stoic. No emotion. Later that night, Robin called the coach and said, “I don’t know if I should be proud or disturbed, but Joe has been in his room for the last two hours dismantling that trophy piece by piece by piece. He then tossed it in the trash can.” I think that gives us all a pretty good idea of what Joe thinks about second place. He has a winner’s attitude, and he won’t be satisfied until he’s at the top of the NFL mountain.”

Q&A with Sam Smathers:

Q: Tell us about your relationship with Joe. When did you know he was going to be special? When did you know he would become one of the best QBs in the world?

A: I had been coaching Athens Youth Football for many years before Joey’s group came through our program. I had never seen the football IQ Joey possessed at his age, hence why he became our quarterback. His fifth- and sixth-grade years we installed shotgun snaps and opened the offense up with a lot more passing. We had an exceptional group of kids those years, probably the most athletic group ever.

By the end of his sixth-grade season, Joey was so accurate in the passing game we installed many different passing plays. I knew then if this group of boys stayed together through high school, we would be one of the best teams in school history. By Joey’s senior year at LSU, that is when I knew he was one of the best QBs in football. He continues to impress people at the highest level, and if I know Joe, he won’t stop until he is the best QB ever.

Q: Do you and Joe still stay in touch?

A: Joey still texts me from time to time and stops by the Dawg Pound during the off season. He invited my wife and me to a Bengals’ game this past year, and we sat with Robin and Jimmy in Joey’s suite. He told me, “Coach, you should never have to pay to watch me play.”

Q: What has Joe meant to Southeastern Ohio? How often did you see him during his years in Baton Rouge? What are a few memories from Joe’s years at LSU?

A: When Joey went to LSU, I didn’t get to see him as often. He came back before his senior year to throw with the Luehrman twins on the high school field across the street from my house. I went over and talked for a bit, gave hugs and wished him well for the year.

Joe’s senior year, when Vandy was put on the schedule, we knew this was our only hope to see him play. I think half of Southeastern Ohio went to the game, and no one was in Athens County to turn off the lights! 

There was another time he came back from LSU during a Friday night game with our rival Nelsonville-York, just seven miles up the road. They asked him to come to the center of the field for the coin flip (and we were at their stadium). Joey signed autographs from both sides the whole game. Not sure if he watched any of it!

Each week I would cook, smoke and fry something for the LSU game. The Dawg Pound became LSU Tiger North! It became bigger each week, more people, more food. What a memory!

The post Matt’s Take: Free Agency Madness, Opening Day; Scott Burson and Sam Smathers join Matt’s Take appeared first on The Cincinnati Herald.