Criticism of Andy Dalton is nothing new. It seems as though he has been labeled the poster boy of average quarterbacks since joining the Bengals. Some have even gone as far to put him in the category of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
The most recent example of this is Dalton’s all-time low ranking in ESPN’s quarterback tier rankings. The rankings are based on the input of 50 NFL executives. The list is based on those executives putting each of the projected 32 NFL starters into one of five tiers. The higher the tier, the less help that quarterback needs to win games. Dalton finished in the third tier, ranking 22nd overall.
Andy Dalton ranks 21st in annual salary average and 22nd in this survey. He was very good (70.0 QBR) when the Bengals had a stacked roster in 2015. He has been average to pretty good the rest of the time, just like the Bengals.
Dalton has three years remaining on a contract that is increasingly friendly from a team standpoint as the quarterback market continues to inflate. Goff, Wentz, Mariota and Winston could all pass Dalton in the salary hierarchy over the next couple years. Can the Bengals rebuild their roster sufficiently to take advantage of the relative discount?
What really tells the story of how the executives feel about Dalton are in their anonymous comments about the quarterback to Mike Sando.
“He is one of those guys who was a Pro Bowler at one point, but they never take the next step,” a former GM said. “He’s smart, they respect him, he’s won games for them, but I can’t see him going to the next step. I compare Andy to Alex Smith: good enough to win with, but can they get you over the hump?”
“You had better be pretty damn good everywhere else if you want to go win and have him as your quarterback,” an offensive coordinator said.
These are comments that most Bengals fans are probably familiar with. The knock on Dalton has always been the fact he can’t get over the hump. He is a productive quarterback, but when those lights get bright, he has a tendency to shrink. Here’s the description of the third tier:
A Tier 3 quarterback is a legitimate starter, but needs a heavier running game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume passing offense makes his job easier.
The way I have always described Dalton is a quarterback who needs a good amount of talent around him if you want your team to be an actual contender. I’ve never meant that as a knock to him either. The amount of quarterbacks who can make their team a contender just by being on the roster is incredibly small. There are plenty of teams who would kill to have a quarterback like Dalton, because he doesn’t hold your team back.
Having Dalton on the roster allows the Bengals to be in the mix for the playoffs just about every season. After that, it is a matter of how good the roster is. For him to be criticized because he isn’t a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is ridiculous. It is frustrating sometimes knowing the limitations of your team’s quarterback, but the alternative isn’t always better.
How long have franchises like the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns spent searching for a guy who could win them games? We’ve seen them and teams like the Broncos and Cardinals invest plenty of money and/or draft capital into the position just in order to compete for the playoffs at the very least.
Guys like Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum reside in tier three as well, and they’ve just cashed in on huge deals. The Bengals have been afforded the opportunity to build up their roster during the time of Dalton’s contract on a very team-friendly deal, while the rest of the NFL has been forced to unload their cap on whatever quarterback can give them a chance to reach the playoffs.
Dalton’s leash is getting shorter, though. We may be only a season or two away from seeing the team invest in a replacement if he continues to struggle to get the Bengals past the first round of the playoffs. Fans can only be content with a few coaching changes to to keep morale up for so long before a big change needs to happen.
Until then though, appreciate the fact the Bengals have a guy who doesn’t hold the team back on a contract that helps keep the team competitive.