Marvin Lewis is officially back in Cincinnati until the turn of the next decade and many other areas of the team appear to be set. Quarterback is one of them, as Andy Dalton is under contract and the team is searching for continuity, as evidenced with their retaining of Bill Lazor at offensive coordinator.
Still, under the still surface, an interesting conversation can be had about Cincinnati’s signal-caller. Whether it’s the vague belief of Lewis challenging Mike Brown for changes, the lack of postseason success with Dalton at the helm, back-to-back losing seasons, or an interesting structure to Dalton’s current deal, this year may point to a potential change.
Essentially, there are three scenarios (really, the only three) that look to play out at quarterback with the veteran coach returning to Cincinnati. On this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, we discussed this topic.
Nothing changes—Dalton’s still the long-term guy:
In all likelihood, the returns of Lewis and Lazor point to Dalton being “their guy” for at least the two years that Lewis looks to remain in Cincinnati. They still have a lot of talent on the roster and both adding/re-signing other talented players to assist him could raise his level of play in 2018.
Though there are questions surrounding the two quarterbacks behind him, the Bengals are technically set at their most important position on their team. Yes, Dalton has some warts, but he has still overseen the most productive stretch of football this team has even seen (2011-2015).
Given the team’s “play-it-safe” and “stick with the devil you know” mentalities, it’s hard to believe they’ll make a massive change at quarterback this offseason.
Dalton is a 2018 “bridge guy”:
Maybe Dalton is a guy that carries the team through the next year or two of the Lewis era and that’s the plan. Even with some of his franchise accolades (five straight postseason berths, breaking single-season passing yardage marks), an 0-4 playoff record as a starter and continuous regular-season ebbs and flows of production have some fans getting exasperated with the Dalton era.
Muddying the waters is the situation surrounding backup AJ McCarron. The former Crimson Tide quarterback is looked at as a viable starter and he might win an arbitration to become an unrestricted free agent.
Of course, the M.O. with the Bengals with Dalton and McCarron is that the former is the unquestioned starter, while the latter is a talented backup to have stashed away in case of emergency or a lucrative trade offer (which they’ve reportedly declined at least twice). But, if McCarron wins the aforementioned arbitration, he’ll go elsewhere for a starting opportunity.
Some of the early signals still point to Dalton being the guy, at least short-term. The club is looking to get the most out of Dalton this year, as the eighth season is right around the prime for an NFL signal-caller.
“It’s how do you coach players?” said Lazor to Bengals.com. “You have to push him past his limitations. If you’re always practicing what he does well, then Andy will continue to be what he is. If I put him in tough situations (in practice), he can test his limits and grow as a player. I’ll be able to push him and I expect him to be up to the challenge.”
Note the “continue to be what he is” portion of the quote. Just an interesting choice of words by the team’s offensive coordinator.
With Dalton no longer being a spring chicken, per se, the team could be looking in the draft for a viable backup and/or a guy to replace Dalton in the near future. If they go with a high pick at signal-caller, it could be a Jon Kitna/Carson Palmer mentorship program with Dalton still handling the reigns for the next year or two.
Cincinnati might be looking to move on:
This is the least likely scenario to play out, but there is some merit to the discussion. For one, this year’s draft class is deep at quarterback, as there might be 4 or 5 first round talents to be available. As the Bengals sit at No. 12 overall, a couple of the signal-callers should be available to them.
Everyone has their favorites in the group consisting of Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. Regardless of one’s thoughts on each of them, the Bengals could have their quarterback of the future sitting in their lap this April.
The Ravens will be on the lookout for offensive playmakers in this year’s draft, and one of the positions they will consider addressing is quarterback.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 5, 2018
: https://t.co/USeVj8FNJg pic.twitter.com/20uZxb6Xlw
Get this, for instance: Boomer Esiason was with the Bengals for 10 years until Mike Brown pushed him out of the door, Carson Palmer was in Cincinnati for eight years and Dalton is now entering his eighth season. We know Brown loves skill position players and has always coveted a franchise quarterback, as evidenced by the drafting of David Klinger at the end of Esiason’s tenure, Akili Smith as a possible answer to Klinger’s disastrous reign and Dalton to move on from Palmer.
What if offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Connor Williams are off of the board, as is Georgia linebacker, Roquan Smith, causing a handful of these quarterbacks to fall to No. 12? In a recent CBS Sports mock draft, this is the case and could bring the Bengals to an interesting decision.
Also adding to the intrigue of the team getting a potential replacement, be it immediate or in the near future, is an “out” in Dalton’s contract. The team can get out of his contract with minimal penalty (just $2.4 million cap hit per Spotrac), as opposed to hits that ranged from $13.8 million to $18.1 million that we saw in the previous four years.
Might that be enough to cut ties with Dalton, despite his relatively-high level of success as the team’s quarterback?
One of two routes needing to be taken:
In short, the Bengals need to commit one way or the other at quarterback. Stick with Dalton and reload the roster, or go with a talented, but unknown commodity in this year’s draft. Either way, they need to fully embrace the plan and go forward accordingly.
Stick with Dalton and massively re-surround him with talent: When you look at Dalton’s best years (2013 and 2015), he was surrounded with a lot of talent. Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler helped anchor the offensive line, while Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert were largely healthy and produced big-time.
None of those players are currently under contract with the team, while four of them (Sanu, Jones, Zeitler and Whitworth) were all missing from last year’s roster. The offense hasn’t been the same since the attrition started back in the 2016 offseason.
If the team remains committed to Dalton, which we are pretty sure that’s the plan, they need to realize who No. 14 is and make sure he has a great cast around him. Given the struggles of the line the past two years, that appears to be the first place to start this offseason.
Hope to land a transcendent quarterback talent: Given the odds, at least one of those five rookie quarterbacks will pan out into a star(s). Which ones will be the best will only be told over time, but there is franchise quarterback potential teeming with this year’s class.
Unfortunately for fans, the Cincinnati Bengals’ organization is one with many shortcomings. There are operating practices that are either outdated or laughed at by other franchises and it’s going to take some great hires and decisions for this team to overcome itself and win a Super Bowl.
That’s where landing a generational talent at quarterback could be key to the championship hopes for the Bengals. Like with Dalton, the team will still need to surround the rookie with talent to avoid a 1990s-type of issue, though.
This, like in outside free agency signings, is where Brown will need to get out of his comfort zone. Obviously Smith and Klingler burned him before, so he, Lewis and Lazor will need to be sure on a rookie that they potentially select.
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