Cincy Jungle Mailbag: Drafting Quarterbacks And Burfict Contract Questions

Scott Cunningham

We address some reader questions and an issue involving a high-profile Bengals player.

(Editor's note: If you have questions that you want answered in one of our mailbag posts, feel free to send them to @CJAnthonyCUI and/or @CincyJungle on Twitter. We'll answer them as we ramp this series back up to coincide with the impending ramp-up of football for the 2014 season.)

+ The first question comes from loyal CincyJungle reader and "Inside The Jungle" podcast listener, Frank Leonard. In his tweet to me, Frank asks the question on the minds of all Bengals fans going into this year's draft. Of course, that question centers around the topic of a quarterback being drafted.

The short answer to Frank's question, is yes, they will draft a quarterback this year. To say that there are questions and criticisms surrounding Andy Dalton would be an understatement. It seems that the rest of the NFL-loving world knows that the Bengals are close to being a championship-caliber team, but poor play by their quarterback in big moments has kept them from reaching their apparent potential.

Yes, other facets of the game have failed in those big moments as well. The defense was gashed twice out of their last three playoff appearances (2011, 2013) and some of their brightest stars outside of Dalton shriveled under the spotlight. Even when the team seemed to make big strides

The hope with 2014 is that some personnel tweaks on offense, a new infusion of talent through the draft and a balanced attack from new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will be the remedy for the big-game woes. It's possible, but their 23rd-ranked difficulty with their schedule is misleading and they will need to make significant strides to go from pretender to contender.

Now because of this, the Bengals are at a contract impasse with Dalton. He is the self-proclaimed face of the franchise, who is standing on a pedestal with only a few other select quarterbacks in NFL history. Ownership seems to be a little less sure and wants to test Dalton in 2014 to see if he can get them past this one-and-done playoff hump. It's a smart move, given that the Bengals have exercised the fifth-year option on A.J. Green, are working on extending linebacker Vontaze Burfict (more on that in a little bit), and can use the franchise tag designation on Dalton in 2015, if need be.

Again, yes, the Bengals will take a quarterback in the draft this year. They have made it somewhat known that they want to keep three on the regular season roster this year, behind Dalton and newly-signed veteran Jason Campbell. The question is who and in what round. I'll list some possibilities by probability and players in that area:

Strong Mid-Round Possibilities:

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, rounds 2-4: In my mock draft that preceded the NFL Combine, I had the Bengals selecting Murray in the fourth round. After I made that prediction, it was made known that the Bengals met with Murray in Indianapolis, which was then followed by a solid Pro Day performance. It's likely that Murray has vaulted himself out of the fourth round, where a knee injury had previously placed him, but I'm not quite ready to say he has moved up into the second round, as others seem to think.Though he doesn't have the strongest arm, he does have a good one and has great leadership. He re-wrote the SEC record books and could be an effective NFL starter.

Tom Savage, QB, Pitt, rounds 3-5: Savage is a guy that has been reportedly rising up teams' draft boards of late, going from a potential sixth round player to upwards of the third round. He could specifically be on the Bengals' radar, as he is the only quarterback who has visited with the team in Cincinnati during the pre-draft process. In our estimation, Savage is a developmental guy that the Bengals could be coveting in this year's draft since they aren't looking for an immediate starter. At 6'4" and 230 pounds, he could be the big-bodied, big-armed quarterback that Mike Brown usually drools over.

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama, rounds 3-4: McCarron is interesting. He could be a player who ends up being a poor man's Dalton and/or Chad Pennington, or he could be a guy who is a Pro Bowler if put in the right system with surrounding talent. He is a winner and is definitely more gifted than his predecessor at Alabama, the recently-retired Greg McElroy. McCarron is one of those "safe", "pro-ready" players, but that doesn't necessarily mean NFL superstar.

Some Maybes As Late-Round Flyers:

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech, rounds 5-7: Thomas has all of the measurables, but not enough good game tape. He could be a project guy that they attempt to spend a few years to develop, but he won't be ready to start anytime soon--probably not even if Dalton leaves the Bengals in 2015 or 2016.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson, Rounds 4-6: Boyd is the antithesis of Thomas. He's small-ish (6'1, 225) and has decent numbers, though not in a true pro-style offense. He can move a little bit, though not as much as you'd think at first glance. Boyd was a productive college player, but most wonder if his skill set will translate to the pros.

David Fales, QB, San Jose State, rounds 5-7: Fales had some early buzz in the pre-draft process, but that has died down quite a bit. He is a little raw and has a couple of bad tendencies, but there are things to like on tape. The consensus opinion is that he will be a career NFL backup and not a starter, but that could change if placed in the right system.

Only If They Fell And Value Could Be Had:

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois, rounds 1-3: This guy has seemed to be every team's flavor of the week at some point. Some buzz has him going as high as the late-first round, but the consensus is that he will likely go somewhere in round two. If, for some reason, Garoppolo dives into the third round at about the time that the Bengals are on the clock, they could look to nab him. It's not unheard of, with high-profile guys like Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley falling just last year. He's not huge (6'2", 225) and worked out of a spread offense, which could have teams wary.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville, Round 1: Some draftniks think that Bridgewater will take an Aaron Rodgers-like fall from grace on draft day and that he could fall into the Bengals' lap. I don't see it happening, but Cincinnati would likely have to think hard on if they want to truly go best player available or lean a little more on immediate need.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU, Rounds 2-3: This kid is the wild card of the draft. Could a team without a pressing immediate need at the end of the first take him as their quarterback of the future a little bit down the road? Or will one of the top teams who passed on a quarterback in the top-five snag him when they're on the clock in the second? Mettenberger has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback, but injuries and a reputation for not performing the best when pressured could hurt his stock. If Mettenberger was there in the third for the Bengals, they could pounce on him.

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State, Rounds 1-2: Reviews are all over the place with Carr. Unfortunately for him, his last name carries a bit of a stigma with him because of the bust that his older brother was. Still, Carr has a good arm and was uber-productive at Fresno State. At 6'2" 215, Carr will likely need to bulk up at the NFL level and it doesn't bode well that his worst collegiate game came against his strongest opposition when he struggled against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. Carr could go within the top-ten, but if he somehow fell to No.24, it's another player that the Bengals may look at.

Conclusion:

There are a number of possibilities. If I were a betting man though, I see Savage, Murray or McCarron as the highest probability of all of the above-mentioned names. My dark horse is Mettenberger, if he's there in the late second or even the third.

+ As most Bengals fans have heard by now, Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict is in talks with the Bengals on a contract extension. It's a feel good story for a guy that had one of the worst draft weekend tumbles ever seen. At the time, it was hard to wholly feel sorry for Burfict, who brought the tumble onto himself with poor workouts and awful stretches of game tape in his last season at Arizona State.

Regardless, in the 2012 preseason, we all saw something special out of the young man. He brought excitement and swagger to the defense. He was the second and third team captain at middle linebacker and made plays. It was only a matter of time before he cracked the lineup.

Fate brought Burfict his chance when Thomas Howard (RIP) tore a knee ligament early in the year. He was thrust into a position that he hadn't played before on the weak side and was part of another Mike Zimmer top-ten defense. A year later he took the NFL's tackling crown and headed to Hawaii. With a new contract forthcoming, the circle is complete for a guy who had a tough upbringing and saw his NFL dreams almost completely crash.

Burfict credited both Zimmer and Marvin Lewis for his transformation, going as far as calling the head coach "the father". The story is almost famous now, where Lewis and Burfict talked over the phone before the draft and No.55 begged him to select him. Lewis gave him a prove-it ultimatum, challenging Burfict to get into better physical shape and show that he could be counted on. For the better part of two seasons, it has worked.

Here is where the old Bengals cynic that resides in all things Queen City comes to the surface. If Burfict signs a huge deal to remain with the club, will he revert back to immature ways once he is paid and become a less effective player? "Cray-cray"? Maybe--but Burfict doesn't have the hard-nosed Zimmer around to keep him accountable anymore.

Now, don't get me wrong: this deal with Burfict has to happen. I'm not implying, by any means, that the team shouldn't re-sign him. The question I ask though should be one that the Bengals ponder as they work out this deal. If you're going to deservedly pay Burfict as one of the league's top linebackers in the NFL, some history lesson must be had when constructing a contract to who would then become an instant team captain.

Perhaps heavy workout bonuses and incentives on statistical performance could be the remedy here. Maybe I'm overstepping my bounds and am unfairly judging the young man when I don't personally know him. There is a distinct possibility that Burfict simply wanted to get paid for playing football and just didn't like playing for Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. A change of scenery and a salary, albeit a small one, could have changed everything.

Just as food for thought, the Bengals should weigh this when working this contract. Get the deal done and keep Burfict in Cincinnati for the next half-decade, at least. Just make sure that this fairy tale doesn't turn into a cautionary tale.

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