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The Andy Dalton dilemma should be easy

If you don't extend Dalton, you put the spotlight on him to perform. If he's up to the challenge, throw in the extra millions and sign him. If he collapses, then you only confirm that he's incapable of performing under pressure.

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Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Thank goodness.

If we're sitting around conjuring up Andy Dalton's response to the Cincinnati Bengals lack of movement in free agency, this has to be close. Typically during the offseason, every issue facing the Bengals offers a tsunami-like response. When the Bengals lost their third consecutive playoff game, it was Dalton and Marvin Lewis. Eventually the tide shifted towards free agency with the loss of Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins, while claiming nothing more than consolation prizes. Now the biggest question mark shadows everything else... again.

NFL owners gathers in Orlando this week. Owner Mike Brown was asked about an extension for Andy Dalton and he aptly danced around the question. The dance wasn't so much about avoiding an answer; rather he genuinely doesn't know what to do -- if you take a consensus among all Bengals fans, you'll realize that his thought process isn't all that different.

"With a fixed cap there is a certain amount of money and no more," said Brown last week. "You allocate that on a quarterback you have less to hand out to everybody else. It can cause attrition. We are going through a difficult time right now because we are trying to work through a deal with Andy and trying to hold back enough money in the cap to do that, yet we don't know what that is.

"We are going to try to get something done but I don't know if we are going to be able to or not. At some point we are going to have to do something more than just let everyone else leave waiting to get something done with that situation. We held back this year trying to put ourselves in a position to get him done. If it turns out it can't be made to work we will do something elsewhere. I don't think we plan to go another year the way we did this year."

Could it be that Brown is hiding a perspective that, "unless you win a playoff game, young man, you're not going to get paid what you think you richly deserve."

Consider Dalton's performances when combining playoff games, prime time games and games played against the Steelers and Ravens. Cincinnati is 5-12 in those games (place all of it at Dalton if you want... or not) and his overall passer rating is 64.2. In every other game (not played under the lights, not against the Steelers or Ravens, and not in the postseason), the Bengals are 25-9 and Dalton's passer rating is 94.9.

Playoffs, Primetime, Steelers and Ravens The rest
Wins 5 25
Losses 12 9
Att. 643 1110
Cmp. 352 710
Passing Pct. 55% 64%
Yards/Game 225.9 242.3
Passing TDs 15 66
Interceptions 25 30
Passer rating 64.2 94.9

Granted. His lack of production in big games should be somewhat expected. Playoff teams are the best the NFL offers that year -- it's not like the Bengals defense hasn't collapsed in the postseason too. The Ravens have been an annual contender, as have the Steelers prior to 2013. Those are just tougher games.

During the regular season, Dalton is good. Projections should relate in comparison to those performances. Each year Cincinnati has improved their win totals. From the unlikely nine wins in 2011 to the 11 last season -- one shy of a franchise record. When he plays a Sunday afternoon game (not against the Steelers or Ravens), you can bet that the Bengals will most likely win. So would it really be a stretch to acknowledge that you want Dalton as your regular season quarterback?

But that's not where we're at, is it? So what if you post your biggest numbers against the Vikings, Browns, Redskins, Giants, Jets, Chiefs, Raiders and Bills. It's not the haunting dilemma that keeps Mike Brown awake and continues to enforce a sense of disillusionment on Marvin Lewis, who champions Dalton at every opportunity -- though we're aware that Lewisisms (saying something but saying nothing... or saying one thing, meaning another) is characteristic of head coaches in the NFL today. Then again, Lewis probably just wants Dalton focused without the issue of a contract hovering over him in the regular season. We get that.

The question is, and always has been, the big games. Oh sure, Dalton threw a beautiful fourth quarter pass to A.J. Green that put Josh Brown in position to beat the Steelers in 2012, clinching a postseason berth. Granted, he wasn't particularly good in that game, and granted, this was a celebration of Cincinnati's defense, but a win is a win (who cares how you got there). That promotes another question -- should we continue forgetting about Cincinnati's defense when promoting either talking point?

"Best case, Dalton evolves into a player who's up to the big-game task, takes the Bengals past the first playoff game, and is paid a large sum, either here or elsewhere," writes Paul Daugherty. "Personally, I'd be highly interested in seeing how an extension-less Andy Dalton played."

Peter King with Sports Illustrated offers a perspective that sings closer to my tune.

I think I know which way I’d vote. I’d want to see one more season of proof out of Dalton before paying him close to Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler money. If he leads Cincinnati deep into the playoffs this year and it costs me a few million extra, so be it. But what I’ve seen so far doesn’t convince me he should be paid $15 million a year. If you’re going to cast your lot with a young quarterback, he has to be the man you believe will lead you to a Super Bowl. Watching Dalton, I like what I see, and I’ve liked his toughness in winning some big games. But he hasn’t shown me yet that he’s a January quarterback.

On the other hand, Greg Bedard with the Monday Morning Quarterback, goes one further.

"If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results, then the Bengals are certifiable when it comes to quarterback Andy Dalton," Bedard writes.

The rest of the country sees a quarterback who plays with zero confidence when the games matter most, and a QB who turned in not just bad postseason games but god-awful performances: three interceptions as a rookie against Houston (when he lost to backup T.J. Yates); a 46.7 completion percentage and a 44.7 rating in a 19-13 loss to Texans in which Dalton missed several opportunities to win the game in his second season; and then last season’s loss to the Chargers. After holding a 10-7 halftime lead, the Bengals punted, Dalton fumbled without being contacted, and then he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives.

Extend him or don't.

If you don't, you put the spotlight on Dalton to perform. If he's up to the challenge, throw in the extra millions and sign him. If he collapses, then you only confirm that he's incapable of performing under pressure. If you extend him this spring, then you're banking on a belief that he'll eventually grow into the role -- how much longer do you want risk this window? Then again, you're already facing significant risk by replacing Dalton.

Poor Mike.