Clearly, the biggest story in the NFL this year is whether or not the Colts should draft Andrew Luck if they have the opportunity to do so. And clearly, this has been discussed at length via every sports platform in the known universe... ad nauseam. So, what does this have to do with the Bengals? Because I feel the Bengals have provided an eight year cautionary tale of what happens when you rest the fate of your franchise on the shoulders of a young quarterback.
Those of you who know me realize I was never an advocate of Palmer. I always felt we should have stuck with Kitna and continued building around him and retaining talent. I slightly felt that back then, strongly felt it mostly through this past decade, and categorically feel it now in hindsight.
Many considered (and still do) Palmer to be an elite QB. Just for the sake of argument, let's assume they're right. In that case, what happened to us since drafting him? He came in with arguably one of the best offensive lines, stellar receivers, solid RB, and adequate TE - and in his third (second playing) year, we get to the playoffs and lose in the first round. We don't return until 4 years later with the same result, subsequently followed by a 4-12 season.
To me, it was pretty obvious. We weren't able to retain key players, nor afford quality FA's. Yes, Mike Brown has been notoriously cheap and our franchise is nothing to be desired, but in the end, Palmer's salary ultimately proved to be the burden which prevented us from building a quality team around him. Instead of retaining players like Justin Smith, Eric Steinbach, Madieu Williams, Takeo Spikes, and Jonathon Joseph, we let them go because we essentially couldn't afford then in lieu of Palmer's contract. The key point is Carson Palmer was unable to carry this team by himself (even with some help).
As I argued in a post last year, people overvalue high round QB's and presumptuously dismiss latter round QB's. A notion I think Dalton is somewhat dispelling as a second round pick after four preceding QB's (anyone who claims they thought Dalton would have this much success is either lying or exceptionally clairvoyant).
Now clearly, the perplexity of the whole argument is that Peyton Manning himself is the anomaly used by the pro-Luck side in establishing you can build a franchise on one QB. But how many Peyton Manning's have there been? By my account, none. Tom Brady? They went 11-5 without him, playing a QB who hadn't started a game since high school - and hasn't done much since being traded to KC. I really hope the Manning-Brady comparisons have died by now. But if you insist, let's say you're right - then we have a sixth rounder who's supposedly the best post-90's QB.
Now, you may be thinking one (or both) of two things. With the CBA, they won't have to pay that much for Luck. And won't any successful QB, regardless of their original draft position, cost the same amount later down the road if they are successful?
To answer the first, they'll still be an expensive, unproven rookie. Plus, in a few years (typically 3-4), the franchise will be forced with the tough dilemma of choosing between him and other key players on the team. Thus will begin their slide into mediocrity and eventual bottom-dweller status (see Cincinnati Bengals of this past decade). And of course, the few quality players the Colts actually have (Freeney, Mathis, Wayne, Clark) will be retiring by that point.
To answer the second question, you simply let him go and bring in another inexpensive QB to be at the helm of your talent-loaded team. Am I saying we should let Andy Dalton go if he demands an overly expensive salary in 3-5 years? Yes. I suspect there are more Andy Dalton's and Ryan Fitzpatrick's than we think. Hell, I haven't even looked past current and previous Bengals QB's to provide two examples. However, I don't believe lower-round QB's have as much leverage in demanding salaries as high-round QB's. When an owner selects a QB in the first round, he is essentially dubbing him as the future face of the franchise for years to come. He is, in many ways, too big to fail. With all the money and years of work invested in him, name recognition, expectations, and reputation of the front office for selecting him, the owner will not want to let him go (see Palmer's $118M contract). Because of this, I think we may be able to hold onto Dalton without overpaying. And one more thing to consider... if you rest your fate on one player, what happens when that player goes down (see the Colts)?
Yes, Luck could possibly be the next Manning - both in quality and longevity. Or he could be the next Ryan Leaf (who many considered to have more potential than Manning). Or... he could be the next Carson Palmer - who sets their franchise back a decade.
Not to rehash old arguments, but I think the Colts should look at what happened to us and trade for more draft picks and/or quality linemen - instead of throwing a young rookie to the wolves (see David Klingler and Akili Smith).