When the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, they got their quarterback of the future. Dalton has led the team's offense to an overall regular-season record of 19-13 over the past two seasons and two straight playoff berths (of course, they're 0-2 in those games). There's no question that, even though Dalton has his flaws, he is the quarterback of the future.
Every franchise quarterback needs a backup, though, just in case the worst comes to pass. For the past two seasons, that backup has been journeyman quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski has played well when he was needed and may be best known in Cincinnati for his part in the team's win over the Browns in Week 1 of the 2011 season, when he threw A.J. Green's first career touchdown reception and defeated the Browns in Cleveland.
Gradkowski is heading to free agency now that the 2012 season is drawing to a close and the Bengals need to decide whether or not they will re-sign him. They brought him in to Cincinnati initially because he was familiar with Jay Gruden's west-coast offense and he could start if Dalton wasn't ready. That didn't end up being the case, though, and the only reason that he would play now would be if Dalton was injured or if the Bengals were winning or losing by enough to pull starters.
Gradkowski was payed $1.8 million in 2012 as part of a two-year, $3.5 million deal. Re-signing him would likely cause just as much, if not more, money. The Bengals could probably bring in a new backup quarterback, in the draft or in free agency, for less money and take some of the money saved to help re-sign some of the big-named free agents that they do want back, like Michael Johnson or Andre Smith.
On the other hand, though, putting all the eggs in one basket (the Dalton basket) could cost the Bengals if he was to be injured. A rookie backup or cheap veteran would doom the Bengals to a losing season in 2013 if, for some reason, Dalton was incapacitated. It would be a gamble for sure.
If they decide to let Gradkowski find a new team, some free agent quarterbacks that would be available, and likely more affordable, would be Derek Anderson, Josh McCown, Drew Stanton or Brian Hoyer, to name a few. If they decided to look to the draft they could get any number of backups with a late-round pick. However, that backup would have zero experience in the NFL.
While it may not be the most important free agency decision the Bengals have to make this offseason, it is a decision that will have to be made. What do you think the Bengals should do when it comes to the backup quarterback position?