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Could Bengals move on from Andy Dalton in 2018?

No, AJ McCarron isn’t replacing Andy Dalton, but it would be easy to make happen if Cincinnati wanted.

NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the NFL’s most stable quarterback situations.

That’s in large part because of Andy Dalton, who has grown into a franchise quarterback during the course of his six-year (going on seven) career. He’s shown he can play at a Pro Bowl-level and lead this Bengals team to the playoffs, even if he has yet to win a postseason game.

It also helps the Bengals have one of the NFL’s best backup quarterbacks in AJ McCarron. Few teams have as good of a starter as Dalton flanked by a quality backup like McCarron. Making Dalton even more special is he’s one of the best value quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of veterans who have signed deals following their rookie contracts. Dalton’s contract pays him an average of just $16 million per year, the 18th-highest of any quarterback, per Spotrac.

That kind of team-friendly deal only strengthens the fact that Cincinnati has one of the best quarterback situations in the NFL. However, you could argue that deal makes Dalton’s job a little less secure than many of his NFL counterparts. Additionally, should the Bengals cut Dalton after 2017, they would be on the hook for only $2,400,000. If they keep him around, he'll continue getting paid between $16,300,000 - $17,700,000 per year for the 2018-2020 seasons before becoming a free agent in 2021.

Does that mean Dalton’s job isn’t secure? Not quite; at least according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. While he could see the Bengals moving to McCarron if Dalton and the Bengals struggle again in 2017 as they did last season, La Canfora still has Dalton among his ‘tepid’ tier of quarterbacks on the hot seat.

I could see the Bengals going in a very different direction moving forward should 2017 resemble 2016. And if they do, they could opt to move Dalton and move forward with AJ McCarron as their QB. He's younger and cheaper and while Dalton hasn't been a problem at QB by any stretch, they structured that deal with incredibly team-friendly, pay-as-you-go options throughout. For all the rumblings about them dealing McCarron the past two offseasons, who's to say they don't let him be part of a rebuild and see what they could fetch in return for an established quarterback?

Also making the ‘tepid’ tier were Kirk Cousins (playing under franchise tag), Ben Roethlisberger (age and injury-prone) and Philip Rivers (age and playing for franchise in major rebuild). It’s not great seeing Dalton on this list at all, but at least he’s in the lowest tier and not the ‘lukewarm’ or ‘scalding’ tiers, which has quarterbacks who will likely be replaced sooner rather than later.

The only real reason Dalton is on this list is because McCarron is one of the best backups in the league, and there’s reason to think he could be as good as Dalton long-term, if made the starting quarterback. But there’s not remotely enough evidence to make it a risk worth taking, not to mention McCarron is, at best, a restricted free agent next offseason, and he could be leaving Cincinnati in 2018.

Needless to say, Dalton is likely to remain the Bengals’ starting quarterback for the long-term. It would be beyond shocking to see him traded or cut, pending a coaching change in Cincinnati.