When reports surfaced of Andy Dalton getting a six-year deal worth $115 million, it felt like a huge gut-shot to Bengals fans. No offense to Dalton, but giving any player a contract that pays them $19.2 million annually can make it significantly harder to keep a team together and consistently making the playoffs.
It turned out the deal wasn't that big, giving the Bengals more cap flexibility in the future to do new deals for AJ Green, Vontaze Burfict, Andre Smith, Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, George Iloka and Emmanuel Lamur, all of whose deals expire within the next two seasons.
As it turns out, Dalton's deal will be very cap-friendly, according to Pro Football Talks' Mike Florio:
Dalton receives a signing bonus of $12 million and a roster bonus in three days of $5 million. That’s a total of $17 million out of the gates. Coupled with his $986,000 base salary (which isn’t guaranteed as a legal matter but it is as a practical matter), Dalton will make $18 million in the first year of the deal.
Then, on the third day of the 2015 league year in March, Dalton earns a $4 million roster bonus. He also has a $3 million non-guaranteed base salary in 2015. That’s $25 million over two years.
The rest of the base deal is simple. In addition to annual workout bonuses of $200,000, Dalton has base salaries of $10.5 million in 2016, $13.1 million in 2017, $13.7 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019, and $17.5 million in 2020.
If in any year he participates in 80-percent of the regular-season snaps and the Bengals get to the divisional round of the playoffs (via wild-card win or bye), he gets another $1 million in each additional year of the deal.
If he qualifies at any point for the conference title game (with 80-percent playing time in the regular season), another $500,000 flows into the base value of the deal, for each additional year.
If he wins a Super Bowl he won’t be driving off in a Hyundai; Dalton will get another $1.5 million per year for each remaining year of the deal.
So if the Bengals win the next Super Bowl this year and if Dalton participates in 80 percent of the regular-season snaps in 2014, he’ll get another $18 million over the life of the deal, pushing the new-money average from $16 million per year to $19 million. Getting to the divisional round this year pushes the new-money average to $17 million.
Again, signing Dalton to a deal that would have paid him $19 million+ would have likely made it impossible to keep all of those guys, assuming they either keep performing at their current levels, or continue to improve on what they've done to this point.
This is a very talented, yet still fairly young team that has the potential to have a lot of winning seasons for the next 4-5 seasons if this roster is kept intact and if the Bengals continue to have solid drafts every year.