It happens during every predraft process, reborn when possible franchise player joins a team. In the end it's the most trivial debate in football.
Is Andy Dalton a franchise quarterback?
Do it, attitude kid.
It's the predraft phrase, an open question that incurs idealistic debate of the intellect. It's meteorology. A simplistic prompt that asks so little in return. Yes or no. At least three franchise quarterbacks were taken in the 2012 NFL draft. Why not Cleveland's Brandon Weeden or Miami's Ryan Tannehill? The former plays for the Browns, who doesn't draft franchise quarterbacks. The latter has the physical traits to be one. Andrew Luck is the prototypical franchise quarterback. Robert Griffin III is the new-age franchise quarterback and Russell Wilson, not a franchise quarterback early, became one after helping lead his team to the divisional round.
Was Tom Brady a franchise quarterback in 2001? What about Ryan Leaf in 1996? One becomes a Hall of Famer that's won three Super Bowls, married one of the top super models and the other has turned into a drug addict breaking into homes to finance his habit. It's a dynamic question that will be asked of a player years after joining the NFL. Jack Thompson, selected third overall in the 1979 NFL draft, was a franchise quarterback. Three seasons deep into his NFL career, he started five games and watched the old guy, Kenny Anderson, reclaim it. Jeff Blake tossed the second-most touchdown passes during his first 32 career starts in franchise history. Despite being fourth in Bengals history with 15,134 yards passing, he's not a franchise quarterback.
Franchise quarterback. The meaning of such a phrase, purposefully empty like a blank canvas, generally devolves into a more simplistic version of an unqualified debate. Such a meaning includes a devastatingly more implicitus expectation. A franchise quarterback isn't a franchise quarterback unless he's an elite quarterback.
Franchise quarterback. An imposing signal caller, standing with immoral implications of a lethal spiral that scores 60-yard touchdowns that accounts for nine points per possession. By sheer force of presence, he inspires teammates to turn in Pro Bowlian efforts. Too much?
Perhaps just a field general. A mortal man with many years of service to one team that compartmentalizes chaos, absorbs the poison and translates calm, collective leadership. A game manager, as only a compliment can sound so insulting.
None of these define Andy Dalton. He's not a slinger, won't be confused as an elite NFL quarterback. He doesn't scare anyone, including opposing defenses with two agendas -- blanket A.J. Green, stop the run. He shows an impressive ability to compartmentalize, to forget a bad play. Yet the act of composure in the pocket is hardly impressive -- though we'll label that one as "not his fault" for now. I get it. Maybe soon. Maybe even next year. You know me. I don't often invest into maybes, despise unsubstantial prognostication and think "faith" is for the feeble-minded.
But when it boils down to it, franchise quarterbacks are also defined by winning.
That fact is hard to ignore. In 34 games played during his two-year NFL career, the Bengals are 19-15. For the first time in 30 years, the Bengals qualified for the postseason in consecutive years during full seasons while Dalton is already scribbling his name in the team's record books.
Of course we refer to the Bengals because, well, the defense provided some help. Just ask Leon Hall against the Pittsburgh Steelers or Geno Atkins against... everyone. Speaking of which, if we're going to call someone a franchise quarterback, let's start calling Atkins a franchise defensive tackle. A.J. Green a franchise wide receiver. Would you be willing to call Kevin Zeitler a franchise offensive guard? Probably not. Doesn't have that sexy ring to it like Franchise Quarterback. We tend to capitalize such things.
It's not that we're wanting not to label Dalton a franchise quarterback, or give him the honor of being Cincinnati's next franchise quarterback. He's certainly earned the debate and we welcome the discourse, though not so much in a contributory role.
It's just that we don't care. It's a label. A meaningless one at that Mike Zimmer's buddy Joe in Kenwood has among friends.
In the end Dalton will play for the Bengals for a several years and if trends continue, he'll win a bunch of games. Definition of a franchise quarterback? Why not? The position he plays fits and the length of time he plays is consistent. That is if you believe in unsubstantial prognostications.