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Andy Dalton and Bengals at crossroads; Zach Mettenrberger the answer?

IF Andy Dalton falters in 2014, the Bengals may be forced to replace him. Could it by LSU signal-caller Zach Mettenberger?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The debate continues as to whether Andy Dalton is the franchise quarterback of the future for the Cincinnati Bengals.

ESPN's Mike Sando polled a number of NFL analysts and executives on some the league's most notable QBs who are entering a make-or-break point in their career. Here's what ESPN Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson and an anonymous NFL GM said of Dalton:

"I think he is what he is, and he will never change," Williamson said. "He will be too good to cut and not good enough to win with. He wins three or four [games] a year for his team and loses one or two, but he is so much less gifted than all the others guys we are talking about here. Maybe if he was playing indoors, he could get away with it more."

"Dalton is a hard, hard, hard guy to read," one NFL general manager said. "He plays really well and really badly. It is surprising. He is not dumb. And it's not like Jay Cutler, who forces it because he has the arm and the ego. Dalton is not that way at all. Something is missing."

It's not as though Dalton hasn't improved over his first three years in the NFL. He has started all 48 games since being a second-round pick in 2011, with a 30-18 record. The win total has increased by one each season.

Dalton has also improved from completing 58.1% of his passes as a rookie to being around 62% over the past two seasons. Dalton’s yardage and touchdowns have increased every season, but so have his interceptions. His passer rating has gone from 80.4 as a rookie to 88.8 as a third-year pro.

But it's his postseason woes that have fueled the fire of doubters of Dalton, including SI's Peter King:

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.

If Dalton isn't the answer, the Bengals may look for his eventual replacement in this year's NFL Draft. Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth thinks LSU's Zach Mettenberger could be that man if Dalton falters in 2014.

If Dalton falters… they can bid him farewell and turn to the fastballer they have been quietly grooming on the bench. Instead of exchanging apples for oranges (as would be the case with Carr and Garoppolo), they would be trading apples for a flamethrower with high athletic upside and a year of NFL coaching and knee rehabilitation under his belt.

But unlike a big three prospect, Mettenberger brings zero 2014 expectations and does not cost additional trade-up resources.

It's safe to say the Bengals have the ability to rid themselves of Dalton within two years if they don't deem him fit to be their franchise signal-caller.

But for all his shortcomings, Dalton deserves one more chance to prove he's worthy of remaining the starter for the foreseeable future.