Andy Dalton meets with a specialist today to determine how long he will be out with an injury to his thumb. The initial diagnosis during the game was a fracture, but we won't know for certain what that means and how much time it will cost him until we hear what the specialist had to say.
What we do know is that he's almost definitely out for the rest of the regular season and that AJ McCarron will be leading the team in their quest to clinch the division and fight for seeding through the next three weeks. McCarron flashed potential against the Steelers, but he also showed plenty of things he needs to improve upon. But, the question remains: who will the Bengals tap to be McCarron's backup?
Mohamed Sanu is currently the emergency quarterback for the team, but it's likely the team will sign a veteran quarterback to give the team their best chance to win should the unthinkable happen again. Here are the five best options for the team to pursue to back up McCarron:
The pool of available NFL-caliber quarterbacks who are at least remotely in game-shape are slim right now, and Mallet technically fits both of those qualifications. He hasn't played in the league since being cut by the Texans after Week 7. He also comes with the mental baggage that got him cut in Houston, exemplified by the incident in which he missed the team's flight to Miami for the game right before he was released. That said, he does possess the talent to compete at the NFL level, which was on display in six starts with Houston in which he racked up over 1,000 yards passing and five touchdown passes. He only won two of his six starts, but it's enough film to prove he at least has experience and can contribute to the team. His off-the-field issues are what hurt him the most.
Lindley hasn't been on an NFL squad since a brief stint with the Patriots in the offseason, but he does have valuable experience filling in as the third quarterback option when a team's starter and backup went down. I'm talking, of course, about the end of the 2014 season when the Cardinals lost Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to season ending injuries and the Cardinals had to rely on Lindley for the last three games of their season and the playoffs. If you'll recall, he didn't perform great, but he also wasn't horrible.
In two regular season starts he threw for 562 yards and two touchdowns, but the most important stat was his four interceptions. In the Cardinals one playoff game last season, he only threw for 82 yards and a touchdown, as well as two interceptions. However, what Lindley lacks in decent game film, he makes up for in experience of being a third string quarterback turned starter.
Keith Wenning is currently residing on the Bengals practice squad, a victim of preseason cuts yet still good enough for the Bengals to keep around to some degree. His only real game action came in the Bengals' 23-10 defeat of the New York Giants in the 2015 preseason. But, he had very little to do with that victory as he only had a chance to play on two drives at the end of the game. He started off OK, throwing for 11 yards on two passes. But, he stopped completing passes as the drive went along and he ended it with an interception. Not exactly prime game tape material for his argument to be called up to the 53 man roster as McCarron's understudy.
Still, Wenning has been working with the Bengals all season and also spent some time with the Ravens last season, whom the Bengals will face off against in Week 17. The coaching staff clearly saw something in his game that made them want to keep him around on the practice squad instead of cutting him outright and giving that spot to someone else. He probably won't be the guy tapped to back McCarron up, but his experience with the team and the playbook would suggest that he is a better option than Mallet or Lindley.
Christian Ponder was once a first round draft pick in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings all the way back in the ancient era of 2011 -- the same year Andy Dalton joined the league in the second round of the draft. He even managed to hold down a starting job from early in the 2011 season until being injured halfway through 2013. During that time he amassed 6,436 yards passing, 38 touchdowns, and 34 interceptions. He was never the kind of guy who was going to light up an opposing team and carry his team to victory, but he was the kind of guy who could work with the team to put together a win, as evidenced by the Vikings' 10-6 record in the only season that he started every game (2012).
He came back from his season-ending injury and was forced to compete with Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, who replaced him as the starter at the beginning of the season. Ponder got his opportunity to play again with Bridgewater injured in late September, but he only threw for 22 yards and two interceptions in his lone start. That was likely the final straw for the Vikings, who didn't resign him at the end of the season. He spent time this offseason with the Raiders and was recently brought on by the Denver Broncos to backup Brock Osweiler in light of Peyton Manning's injury. He's still in game shape and could play if need be. The only question lies in his confidence: Is he ready to fill in at quarterback and play well after being discarded so often over the last two years?
There's not really much of a chance that this happens, as Campbell is retired and doesn't seem interested in making a return to the league. The Bengals actually offered him the chance to return to the team back in June, but he turned them down. He also turned the Ravens down, so it wasn't an issue with not liking the Bengals. There were rumors that the Colts "begged" him to return to the NFL earlier this season and he refused them as well.
That said, Campbell is only 33 and spent time with the Redskins, Raiders, Bears, Browns, and Bengals throughout his career; all of whom (other than the Bengals) he played for as a starter in some capacity. He has amassed 16,771 yards, 87 touchdowns, and 60 interceptions in his career and he has the added benefit of having already spent time with the Bengals as a backup.
Campbell would easily be the ideal signing for the Bengals with the free agent pool so dry at the moment. He has experience with the team and has been somewhat successful as a starter in the past. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with him is the fact that he probably doesn't want to play, which would put a damper on the Bengals' efforts to convince him to come back.