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Bengals mailbag: Trades and pushing Andy Dalton to greatness

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We answer the burning questions on the minds of our readers, which include a backup quarterback pushing the starter to the next level and potential Bengals trades.

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The Cincinnati Bengals are gearing up for team OTAs followed by training camp right around the corner, but feelings are mixed in Who Dey Nation at the moment. Did the team improve this offseason? How will they rebound from the devastating Wild Card loss? Will they make the postseason for the sixth straight year in 2016?

Those aren't the questions from our readers this week though, and are ones that will be answered throughout the course of the regular season. This week, we have some interesting queries surrounding the ever-popular topic of Andy Dalton, as well as one about possible trade scenarios.

As always, Tweet or email us your questions to be featured in this weekly post!

There was a period of time when the Bengals were active movers in the preseason trade market. Brian Leonard, Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays, and Kelly Jennings were all players brought in via trades since the 2009 offseason. All of the aforementioned deals except the one for Leonard were cemented in late August or early September, which signals to me that the team likes to sift out what they have through camp and make a move only if necessary, should injury or a glaring roster hole arise.

Some areas the team might look to address are wide receiver, linebacker or edge pass-rusher. Wide receiver was addressed in both free agency and the NFL Draft with the additions of Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core, but inexperience litters the back end of the positional depth chart. Karlos Dansby was added as a bandage for Vontaze Burfict's three-game suspension, but no significant edge pass-rushers were added in either venture.

I've also been talking about tight end a bit as a silent need, but the team seems to be prepared to roll with Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah, as well as Ryan Hewitt as the h-back for 2016. And, while there is a lot of talent there, inexperience and other questions remain at the position. But, at the risk of sounding over-confident, the team is relatively set at each of their positions, aside from some minor tweaks that might need to be made.

There are some guys who could surface that make sense because of past visits, rumor mill connections and past stints with the team. For instance, if the Ravens discard linebacker/defensive end Chris Carter, we might see his return to Cincinnati.

If you look at the deeper positions on the team, that might be the easiest way to see where players might be expendable. With Andrew Billings being drafted this year, the Bengals have a logjam of talent in the middle of their defensive line. Last year's fourth-rounder, Marcus Hardison, is scrapping with Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, DeShawn Williams and David Dean for roster spots. While Thompson is a candidate for the PUP List to start the year, there is just too much talent for the amount of spots they'll hold on the final roster.

Cornerback is becoming stacked as well, with four of the team's top corners being former first round picks. There are also a couple of interesting names like Josh Shaw, Chris Lewis-Harris and Chykie Brown filling out the back end of the position, so outside interest could bloom. It's a coveted position around the league, so the Bengals might be able to net someone else they like by dangling one of these guys out there. It's pretty unlikely, though, as they seem to really like what they have in those top five on the depth chart.

Do we even want to think about a scenario with AJ McCarron? Given his admirable performances in relief of Dalton last year, he seems like a guy the Bengals want to hang on to again this year. It would seem the best time to have dealt him would have been around the Draft and they didn't do it.

Still, I think the most reasonable and realistic option the Bengals have is to go diving into waiver wire transactions after final cuts are announced. There are always at least a couple of surprising names out there, so a quality addition once new names hit the free market could be a possibility over a straight-up trade.

*****

Excellent question here. Neither of them will likely say anything controversial on the subject, but some guys cower in the face of competition, while others thrive on it. In the case of Dalton last year, he appeared to embrace it and had one of the best seasons a Bengals passer has ever had.

Let's rewind back to the spring and summer months last year, shall we? Fans and media pundits were all over Dalton's back for another postseason flop, this time against the Colts, and we were all riding him about a season in which he had just 19 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. All of a sudden, reports surfaced of McCarron's gigantic progress in the 2015 offseason after sitting out all of 2014 with a shoulder problem, and McCarron Mania hit The Queen City.

Cincy Jungle was one of the sites debating McCarron's ability to unseat Dalton as the 2015 starter, but we were far from alone. It was a hot topic, given McCarron's performances in camp practices and even some preseason games. I don't want to say Dalton ever truly feared losing his job last year, but there was a lot of peripheral noise setting him up for epic failure. Quarterback controversies, whether it's team-created or fan-created, rarely work out well for the incumbent starter.

Dalton's response was to help lead the team to a franchise-best 12 regular season wins (tied with the 1988 squad) and a franchise-best 106.1 passer rating in the season. Sure, he missed three games which could have negatively affected some of his outstanding stats, but he was playing like a man on a mission, so the pendulum could have swung back in a positive way too.

I think McCarron's performance had a positive effect on Dalton, but it wasn't the only factor in his success. Hue Jackson's wild creativity and the availability of so many options back into the lineup all helped No. 14 get his career back on track. It was good to see that kind of season out of a guy with high character who has been through so much in his five pro seasons. It was just as heartbreaking to see how the season ended for him and the Bengals.

And, unfortunately for Dalton, since he was unable to lead his team to a playoff victory because of a broken thumb he suffered, similar questions are poking their heads out again this offseason. Was his 2015 campaign a flash-in-the-pan? Can he put up a similar season without Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu? Regardless of the sometimes-gaudy stats, is Dalton the quarterback to lead the Bengals to a championship?

One thing is certain: he'll need to maintain the same level of commitment and focus this offseason to shatter any present and future doubts. If he's able to, the Bengals are in for another fun ride in 2016--hopefully with a better ending to it than last year.