As expected, the Bengals stood pat at the NFL Trade Deadline and didn’t make any deals.
But while many were clamoring for guys like Tyler Eifert, Cordy Glenn and even A.J. Green to be traded, the Bengals did end up making a trade that no one saw coming but needed to happen more than with those aforementioned players.
That was trading Andy Dalton for Ryan Finley as the team’s starting quarterback. The team made the shocking decision to bench their embattled 32-year-old signal-caller and lay the groundwork for him to eventually be let go.
Of course, it would have been nice to actually trade Dalton to another team for draft picks, being as how it seems he no longer has a future here. But regardless, the Bengals still made a major splash by swapping Dalton out for a new quarterback in Finley, who the team spent a fourth-round pick on in the 2019 NFL Draft.
While everyone will now want to focus on which quarterback the Bengals could take in the 2020 NFL Draft, assuming they have a high pick and have a shot at one of Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa, we can’t assume Finley isn’t a capable NFL starter until we get to see him play extensive regular-season snaps.
After all, there have been plenty of quarterbacks who were late-round picks or even undrafted that have turned into quality NFL starters, including Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, and even Gardner Minshew in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft.
Who’s to say Finley can’t be the Bengals’ version of Minshew?
And while it would have been nice to ship Dalton off for some future draft picks, there is a benefit to keeping him. He’ll now be essentially another assistant coach to help Finley learn the ropes of being an NFL starter, which could prove beneficial in the long run if the rookie turns out to be a capable starter.
But more than likely, Finley will be a downgrade from Dalton, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
Let’s face it: If Dalton had remained the starter with the return of A.J. Green and possibly Cordy Glenn (even now, he’d likely be a big upgrade at either tackle spot or even at left guard, where he was originally set to play before Clint Boling retired), not to mention the eventual return of Dre Kirkpatrick, Carl Lawson, and possibly John Ross and Darius Phillips if they get IR-return designations, there’s plenty of reason to think the Bengals would have won several games over the second half of the season.
Assuming Green returned after the bye week, I was expecting the Bengals to win three games over the final eight weeks. The Dolphins are still in full tank mode, while the Jets aren’t too far behind, and the Raiders, Steelers and Browns may all be out of the playoff mix when the Bengals face them.
And lest we forget Green is a Ravens-killer, and that’s who the Bengals face in Week 10 following a bye week, the same week the Ravens play their biggest game of the season vs. New England, so it’s easy to see scenario where they come to Paul Brown Stadium ripe for an upset.
That’s why it’s easy to see the Green/Dalton duo doing enough to steal some wins down the stretch and finish 3-13 or even 4-12.
Heck, they did just that in 2008, starting 0-8 before going 4-3-1 with a team that has a strong argument for being worse than what the 2019 Bengals will have over the final eight games. And the 2010 team started 2-11 before winning two of their final three games, so there’s a somewhat recent history of this franchise getting off to a historically bad start only to finish strong and avoid having a top 3-5, which is usually when the top-tier quarterback prospects are drafted.
So, another late-season strong finish could have once again put the Bengals out of position to draft a guy like Tua or Burrow, while also making it easier for the Bengals to justify keeping Dalton and signing him to another extension.
That may be the worse-case scenario, if the last four years are any indicator. I think it’s safe to say the last thing Bengals fans want is another decade of losing seasons mixed in with some Wild Card losses in the playoffs.
Now, if the Bengals have a strong finish that takes them out of the running for a top-tier quarterback, it will hopefully be because Finley played well and showed he could potentially be a franchise quarterback, even an upgrade over Dalton.
Or, Finley could end up being a downgrade from Dalton and help ensure this team remains in the hunt for the No. 1 or 2 pick.
Either way, the Bengals are now moving in a significantly better direction than what any of us anticipated prior to the trade deadline. They actually made progress toward better days.