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Bengals 2016 Roster Reset: State of the quarterbacks

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The Bengals remained faithful to Andy Dalton through the highs and lows of his first four seasons. They were finally rewarded as he became one of the NFL's best passers in 2015 and showed he can be the franchise QB they need him to be.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It's not often an NFL franchise is fortunate enough to go from one franchise quarterback to another franchise quarterback without any setbacks in between.

That's exactly what the Bengals were able to do in the 2011 offseason when Carson Palmer suddenly retired was traded, leaving the franchise in a state of uncertainty, doubt and hopelessness.

But ever since Andy Dalton came to Cincinnati in 2011 it's been clear the Bengals have believed in his ability to be the long-term answer for the team at quarterback.

Despite not playing in the final month of the 2015 season, Dalton still threw for 25 touchdowns and 3,250 yards vs just seven interceptions, good for a career-high 106.3 passer rating. He also rushed for three scores and helped lead the Bengals to a 10-2 start, atop the AFC standings before going down with a thumb injury.

Dalton set career highs in QB Rating (106.3), yards per attempt (8.42), completion percent (66.1%), and a TD to INT ratio of 3.57:1, more than twice his previous best (1.69:1 in 2012). He had the NFL's eighth-best completion percentage, second-best yards-per-attempt average, second-highest passer rating and fifth-best QBR.

As if his overall numbers weren't enough to show Dalton's big improvements, he also played much better in primetime games, an area he'd struggled in mightily at times over his first four seasons. In three primetime games in 2015, Dalton completed 65 of 104 passes (62.5%) with five touchdowns and one interception.

Two of those games came against the Texans' third-ranked overall defense and at the Cardinals vs their fifth-ranked defense. Both of those teams also went to the playoffs, and Arizona ended up with the NFL's second-best record.

But for the first time in his NFL career, Dalton would suffer an injury that led to him missing time. That turned out to be four games, including the Wild Card matchup with Pittsburgh. That allowed AJ McCarron to rise from the bench and show he was fully capable of leading an NFL offense.

McCarron showed a lot during his brief stint as the Bengals' starting passer in 2015, completing 102 of 160 passes (64 percent) for 1,066 yards with seven touchdowns and three picks. That includes the playoffs loss to Pittsburgh in which McCarron guided the Bengals to a near-win in the fourth quarter.

After McCarron, there's probably going to be a battle between two quarterbacks for a spot on the practice squad, though it's possible the Bengals keep two signal-callers there. The most likely candidate is Keith Wenning, was was called up from the practice squad onto the roster last year after spending the first three months on the practice squad.

Wenning was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 194th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was signed to the Raven's practice squad in 2014 after failing to make the 53-man roster. He was then signed to their 90-man offseason roster, but was cut in May 2015. He eventually signed with the Atlanta Falcons, who cut him in June 2015 before he wound up in Cincinnati.

A four-year starter in college, Wenning was a two-time captain who threw for 4,148 yards with 35 touchdowns and only seven interceptions as a senior at Ball State. He has enough upside that he still may develop into a solid backup quarterback for a team, but for now, he's a practice squad candidate for the Bengals.

That's also the case with former Bowling Green Falcons star Matt Johnson, who quietly was one of the most efficient passers in college football in 2015. He finished the 2015 season throwing for 4,946 passing yards and 46 touchdowns.

His passing yard total broke Ben Roethlisberger's conference record, and his 46 touchdown passes (second in the nation) are a MAC record. He too has a lot of upside and may become a solid backup for a team, but can only hope to make the Bengals' practice squad for now.

As long as everyone is healthy, there's little reason to think Dalton and McCarron won't be the two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. While Wenning and Johnson are promising prospects, the Bengals aren't going to keep them on the final roster unless there's an injury to one of the top two guys.

Here's a look at what the depth chart at quarterback looks like heading into the summer.

Starter: Andy Dalton

Backup: AJ McCarron

Practice Squad Candidates: Keith Wenning, Matt Johnson