After selecting LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in last week’s NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals released veteran quarterback Andy Dalton on Wednesday. The 35th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Dalton, from TCU, led the Bengals to five straight playoff berths, including two division titles, in his first five seasons in the NFL, and also holds the Bengals franchise record for touchdown passes with 204.
After failing to find a trade partner to offload Dalton’s $17.7 million salary from their 2020 salary cap, the Bengals made the logical decision to part ways with Dalton, who was benched for Ryan Finley after starting last season 0-8 as the starting QB for the Bengals.
With the Patriots’ lack of a proven commodity at the quarterback position now, and Dalton being a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL who has had sustained success in the league in the past, the question has to be asked: should the Patriots sign Dalton? The two parties have been linked to each other since the Patriots’ offseason began, and NBC’s Peter King said in March that Dalton would be a fit in Foxborough.
Here are some things to consider when evaluating the chances of the Red Rifle coming to New England.
Money is still an issue.
Now that Dalton is a free agent, he no longer carries around that $17.7 million cap hit with him. This is a significant detail for the cash-strapped Patriots, who currently have just $1.66 million in cap room, and still need space to sign their incoming rookie draft class.
Even before thinking of adding Dalton, the team still has some cap gymnastics to perform before the 2020 regular season begins. Whenever that may be.
If New England can gain some more breathing room under the cap, and Dalton is willing to take an incentive-laden contract for minimal guaranteed money, it’s feasible to see New England bringing him in.
The New Orleans Saints recently signed free agent quarterback Jameis Winston to a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.1 million and up to $4.7 million in playtime incentives, which should serve as the benchmark for Dalton and his agent for his next contract.
Why should Jameis Winston, who hasn’t reached the postseason yet, garner a richer contract than Andy Dalton, who has been to the playoffs five times?
Winston is a younger quarterback than Dalton who still has some potential, if he can fix his turnover woes. Dalton, on the other hand, is 32 years old and coming off the worst year of his career, one in which he posted career lows in passer rating (78.3) and completion percentage (59.5 percent). He would be lucky to get a similar contract to the one New Orleans handed Winston.
What would signing Dalton mean for the other quarterbacks on the roster?
Dalton would likely represent an immediate upgrade at the backup quarterback position for the Patriots. While Brian Hoyer has the leg up on Dalton in terms of familiarity with the New England offense, Dalton is the better quarterback.
Hoyer, 35, is older than Dalton, and has a worse track record as a starter, having gone 1-17 in his last 18 career starts. Dalton, meanwhile, is 20-35 in his last four seasons as a starter, and has a higher career completion percentage, touchdown percentage, and passer rating than Hoyer. Both quarterbacks are on the back ends of their careers, but Dalton has had more success in the NFL, and is simply the more talented player.
Dalton already has one fan on the Patriots, and his name is Bill Belichick.
“Obviously, the quarterback [Andy] Dalton’s a very experienced guy,” said Belichick before New England’s matchup against the Bengals in December. “He’s led this team to a lot of victories, a lot of comeback victories – excellent quarterback.”
In terms of what Dalton’s presence on the roster would mean for Jarrett Stidham, if everything goes right for the team at the position, it shouldn’t mean anything. Every move the Patriots have made this season, from letting Tom Brady go, to not drafting a rookie quarterback, indicate the team is confident in Stidham’s ability to grab the starting reins in 2020. If they are right, then Stidham should be able to beat out Dalton and Hoyer in training camp.
If they are wrong, then they will have a backup on the roster with starting experience, who can hopefully steer the ship in the right direction for the remainder of the season.
Other suitors could offer better situations.
If money still matters for Dalton at this stage in his career, then there are other teams that could offer similar opportunities to Dalton, for more money than the Patriots could offer.
Dalton could decide to head south and reunite with his former offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, in Jacksonville. While Gardner Minshew is expected to be the starter for Jacksonville to begin the season, the second-year quarterback is still a little rough around the edges, and Dalton could push him for playing time, while earning a few extra bucks.
Pittsburgh could be a dark horse candidate for Dalton, if he wishes to stick around in the AFC North. With Ben Roethlisberger coming off of a season-ending elbow injury in 2019, the team may want some protection at the position, if the 38-year-old Roethlisberger can’t return to form in 2020.
Could the coronavirus’ impact on the 2020 season influence the team’s decision?
While Dalton would provide an upgrade over Hoyer at the backup quarterback position, he could face a steep learning curve with the team if the 2020 NFL season is pushed back due to coronavirus concerns. If training camp is delayed, and/or shortened, that could impact Dalton’s ability to get up to speed on the playbook and would affect his chances of making the team.
Is it worth it to sign a 32-year-old quarterback to a one-year deal in a season that could very well be shortened due to a global pandemic? That’s a legitimate question, and one that may lead the team to determine that it is better off going with what it has at the quarterback position for 2020, and re-assessing the position next offseason.