After an underwhelming year from Andy Dalton, a lot of fans in Bengaldom are ready to look for a new franchise leader. The Bengals missed the playoffs for a second year, and he has yet to win a playoff game in his seven years as starter, and the Bengals have A.J. McCarron in the wings, since his trade to the Browns fell through. Fun fact, the Bengals have NEVER completed a trade with the Browns, a streak that continues due to the Browns’ email SNAFU.
Here’s the thing, the Bengals got a great deal on Dalton. They have him through 2020, at an average of about $16 million per year. That’s actually a huge value on a starting quarterback, even one who has not one a playoff game. The salary cap is expected to rise the next few years, and quarterback salaries are expected to skyrocket. Think, Stafford set a new bar last year at an average of $27 million, topping Derek Carr at $25 million per year. Cousins is likely to get paid more than that on the open market. Alex Smith just got a raise to about $23 million per year. As an added benefit of Dalton’s deal, the Bengals have the option of cutting him whenever they want without a huge cap hit, since most of the guaranteed money has already been paid out.
And here’s the other thing, who would you rather have than Andy Dalton that’s going to be available. Kirk Cousins is less accomplished than Dalton– he hasn’t won a playoff game either, and he’s about to get paid twice what Dalton is. McCarron is intriguing, but unproven, and is in line to get paid as well. Blake Bortles might get cut, but only if the Jaguars think he’s not worth the $19 million he’ll make if they keep him. They could draft somebody, but making the transition to the pros is really a crapshoot: even many of the successes don’t exceed Dalton’s accomplishments. All three Vikings quarterbacks are slated to become free agents, but all of them are unproven. There’s nobody likely available that will perform as well as Dalton next year, and certainly nobody else for the bargain prices the Bengals are paying.
Andy Dalton isn’t the kind of elite quarterback that is going to elevate a team or carry, like a Brady or a Brees. There are not many of those guys around. Dalton is a quarterback who can lead a team and win in the right circumstance. Like an Eli Manning, he can succeed with the right tools around him: in particular, he needs protection. Dalton’s performance dropped off this year, but that’s likely directly due to losing two of his offensive line anchors in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Couple that with losing Rex Burkhead, and dealing with other tailback injuries, and the situation at Offensive Coordinator, and it’s no surprise the Bengals offense struggled this year.
Andy Dalton is the Bengals’ best option at quarterback this year. He’s not the best in the game, but he may be the best contract value in the game. If the Bengals can shore up the offensive line, and give the team coaching stability next year, there’s no reason Dalton can’t take the team to the next level. The gut reaction to make a change is natural, but right now Dalton still makes the most sense.