One of the most controversial things the Bengals have done in recent years is re-sign Andy Dalton to a six year contract worth up to $115 million. When the contract was signed, fans and the media could not believe the numbers.
Upon closer examination, it became clear that Dalton's contract was actually a lot more team friendly than it initially looked. In fact, his base salary in any given year floats right around the $16 million per year, if he doesn't play up to many of the bonuses written into his contract. Essentially, he gets paid like a top level quarterback if he makes excels in the playoffs, but he gets paid like an average quarterback if he doesn't.
Dalton would receive $1 million per subsequent year if he plays in 80 percent of the snaps and reaches the divisional round of the playoffs. He receives $500,000 per subsequent year if he plays in 80 percent of the snaps and reaches the conference title. And, he receives $1.5 million per subsequent year of his contract if he plays in 80 percent of the snaps and reaches the Super Bowl.
Still, there was a large amount of criticism for Dalton's contract at the time it was signed. It was largely due to the staggering numbers that were at play compared to the fact that many fans didn't feel at the time as though his level of play warranted such a significant contract. There was fear that he would take up too much cap space and was promised too much money to be realistically cut.
The cap hit for Dalton's deal goes up every year, but the amount of dead money the team would need to pay if Dalton were to be cut goes down exponentially each year. This season, if Dalton were to be cut--which he won't be--the team would be on the hook for only $7.2 million. In 2017 that number goes down to $4.8 million and in 2018 that goes down to $2.4 million. In 2019 and 2020, the deal includes no dead cap money despite Dalton getting paid $16.2 million and $17.7 million respectively in each of those years if he does remain with the team.
So, many of the original fears associated with the contract are no longer valid. Yes, he took up quite a bit of cap space in the first two years of his contract and couldn't have realistically been cut at that time. But, his contract was very front loaded, so in 2016 and going forward he will be taking up much less cap space and could realistically be cut with only a manageable amount of dead money going to paying off the $96 million that he was guaranteed.
Being such a team friendly contract, it's hard to find any significant criticism of the deal that makes much sense, especially after the impressive 2015 season that Dalton had before his thumb injury. In fact, our friends at Pro Football Focus recently ranked the best quarterback contracts in the NFL, placing Dalton right at No. 5. This ranking is just one of many examples showing how silly all of the vehement criticism of his contract was.
5. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Years remaining: Five
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $15.8 million
Recently, when a good-but-not-great quarterback has been in line for an extension, the team has paid him like an elite QB, simply because having a good quarterback is still better than being stuck with a bad one. In 2014, when Dalton signed a six-year extension, he became the exception to that rule.
20 different quarterbacks have a higher average value per year than Dalton, yet the Cincinnati QB made his way into our top 10 highest-graded quarterbacks last season, with an overall grade of 84.7. On passes where Dalton threw the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, he had an NFL passer rating of 115.7, the best in the NFL. Dalton may never be a top-five NFL quarterback, but he is an above-average starting QB getting paid like a below-average starter.
One thing that really stands out here is that TWENTY quarterbacks are getting paid more per year than Dalton. Considering how many quarterbacks are on their rookie contracts who are obviously making less, it really goes to show just how much Dalton does deserve what he's making.
Interestingly enough, PFF notes that Dalton might never be a top-five NFL quarterback, but he sure played like one in 2015. If he comes back without any injury issues in 2016 and continues to improve at the level he did, there's no doubt that he could consistently be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league. If things end up working out like that, this deal could eventually be seen as one of the best of the current generation.