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Reexamining Andy Dalton's contract

How much has the Bengals' franchise quarterback lived up to the expectations of his contract?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton's blockbuster contract has received incredible amounts of praise, criticism, and analysis since the day it was signed on August 4, 2014. But is the amount of discussion it has received warranted? The fact of the matter is, Dalton's contract is worth $96 million and runs through the 2020 season; that's not counting all of the bonus money he could earn by hitting certain milestones outlined in the contract.

The prevailing arguments against offering Dalton a contract of this nature typically are along the lines of "he's being paid too much", "the Bengals are investing too much in a quarterback who still needs to prove himself", and "he's taking up too much of the salary cap". But, it's hard to argue with his results in 2015.

One of the most widely quoted aspects of the contract was the Bengals' ability to opt out after the 2015 season with minimal penalties. This was seen as a way of the Bengals locking down a quarterback who they believed to be worthy of a franchise role, but one they might want to have the option to easily move on from down the line. With the 2015 season now over, we're reevaluating Dalton's worth to the team. Does anyone want to make the argument that Dalton shouldn't be kept around? If you do, consider these facts:

  • He improved in nearly every significant statistical category this year. He even threw for more touchdowns this year in 13 games (25) than he did through 16 games in 2011 (20) and 2014 (19).
  • His $13.1 million salary in 2016 will be taking up roughly eight percent of the cap for the season. Taking all the small contracts going to backup and reserve players into account, that's a crazy reasonable number for a player who performed so well in 2015.
  • A.J. Green will be occupying $13 million in cap space in 2016 making the difference between Dalton and Green's cap hit $100,000. For your franchise quarterback (typically the most highly-paid player on your team) to be making only $100,000 more than you number one receiver seems fair.
  • At this point, it's relatively easy for the Bengals to bail out of the contract any time. If Dalton's play should start regressing, they could cut ties at any point without having to eat too much dead money. In 2016, Dalton would carry $7.2 million; in 2017, that number drops to $4.8 million and in 2018 it drops further to $2.4 million. If the team were to release him in 2019 or 2020, they wouldn't lose any money in the process.
  • The bottom line: The Bengals still have a ton of money in 2016 to spend on the rest of the team. That'll include roughly $30 million+ to spend on re-signing free agents, potentially bringing in outside free agents, and signing draft picks. The rest of that money will incentivize Dalton's current supporting cast.

When you really break down Dalton's contract, you should also consider non-financial aspects like how good he proved he can be this season and how important he is expected to be to the team going forward. Combine that with such a relatively low cap hit, and the deal he signed starts looking like a genius move by the Bengals' personnel staff. If he keeps playing at the level he's proven he can, this deal could end up looking like one of the most savvy personnel moves in recent history and not like a deal that should have been criticized as frequently and aggressively as it was.