We're taking a moment to examine each position on the Cincinnati Bengals roster and forecasting possible outcomes for free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft.
It isn't so much the arm strength that's the major concern. Cincinnati can engineer routes and passing plays around it. It would be nice if the deep pass were more accurate, but A.J. Green is talented enough to fight through double teams and compensate; though even that occurred with less frequency as the season marched into the colder months. More alarming last year was his reaction inside the pocket, feeling pressure and diving away from protection, often lowering his eyes for rushing lanes while cutting the field in half during improvised rollouts.
That being said: Praise him or criticize him, Andy Dalton is your starting quarterback. And it's not like he's a bad option. From 2011 to 2012 his numbers steadily improved (seven more touchdowns, four points higher on completion percentage, average, quarterback rating). He's already generated five fourth quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives. Last year Dalton generated a passer rating of 127 or higher in three games while going through a stretch of three games with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions during Cincinnati's four-game midseason winning streak that put the Bengals back into the postseason hunt.
So let's put all of our Andy Dalton offseason debates on the back-burner right now. It's just not that important. Yet that doesn't mean that the Bengals can afford to ignore the position either.
FREE AGENCY: The only backup quarterback that Andy Dalton has ever known becomes an unrestricted free agent next month. We're not expecting Bruce Gradkowski to find a full-time starting gig though it makes sense for him to take a peak among the quarterback-needy teams. The free agent class isn't particularly strong either with names like Jason Campbell, Matt Moore, Brian Hoyer, Tarvaris Jackson, Derek Anderson, Byron Leftwich and Drew Stanton. Michael Vick and Alex Smith could become free agents eventually, but as of this writing they're not. Joe Flacco could also hit free agency, but to entertain that thought is really invoking insanity.
If Gradkowski, completing 13 of 29 passes (44.8 percent) for 174 yards, a touchdown, pick and passer rating of 61.6 during his two-year Bengals career, returns to Cincinnati then expect something in the neighborhood of a similar two-year deal that he signed in 2011 worth $4 million.
NFL DRAFT: It's believed that the Bengals could look at a younger option through the draft. The idea isn't to replace Dalton -- he's here to stay so go ahead and dissolve that thought like snow meeting midsummer temperatures. Rather a backup solution that's young enough to develop, talented enough to play in a pinch if Dalton succumbs to injury. If that happens don't expect a quarterback selection until Saturday's rounds during the 2013 NFL draft. And even if that happens, we could see the team keeping Gradkowski for one more year while developing the young kid through the practice squad.
What about Zac Robinson? Possible though doubtful. Save for posting mediocre (or blah) numbers during the preseason last year, never seriously considered for the 53-man roster, Robinson has served two seasons on the practice squad and may be eligible for a third, provided the Bengals have "at least 53 players on the active/inactive list throughout the entire period of his employment", per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If not, he's gone.