“I’m back,” Andy Dalton said with a smile earlier this week.
Zac Taylor turned to the nine-year veteran after a three-game hiatus in which rookie Ryan Finley was under center. Three losses, four turnovers and an average of 158 passing yards per game later and the first-year coach had seen enough.
Many theories abound as to why Taylor made this move. The coach and players would tell you it’s because Dalton at quarterback gives the team the best chance to win, as everyone associated with the club is starved for one.
However, some are thinking the ulterior motive is to let Dalton showcase himself, potentially play well and parlay the opportunity into a higher spring draft yield for the club. A veritable win-win for all parties, as shipping Dalton elsewhere would give him an opportunity to be the starter, as the team used their high first-round pick on another rookie signal-caller.
However, sleeping under the surface may be another hidden agenda, as unlikely as it may be. The team may be allowing Dalton to attempt to win back the starting gig for next year, should he play well. We discussed this idea on this week’s Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast.
Under Finley, Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan tweaked the running game play-calls in an effort to boost that facet. Joe Mixon also seemed to be running with an even higher level of fervor (is that even possible?) in these three games, netting 279 yards and a 4.4 yards per carry. It’s a big rise on production that Dalton could not lean upon in the early parts of the year.
Additionally, Cordy Glenn is back in the lineup, John Ross could return in a week or so, A.J. Green might suit up for a couple of games to end the year and Jonah Williams remains a slight possibility for playing time, as he’s been on PUP—not I.R. We’ve long known that Dalton is quite effective when talent surrounds him and these final games might be the healthiest this team has been since early 2018.
If you were to also listen to Dalton in the weeks during his benching and back to starting, you;d likely see a man with a chip on his shoulder. Since joining the Bengals, Dalton went unchallenged as a starter until the middle of this year.
Losing his job due to factors outside of his control (likely how he mostly views the situation), Dalton wants to prove himself. Whether it’s to get a job somewhere else, or reclaim his Cincinnati throne in 2020, he’s not worried about spoiling the team’s chances at the No. 1 overall pick.
Basically, things could stack up for Dalton to play well, win games and give pause to this organization’s quick-trigger decision to move on to a rookie next year. What happens if Dalton goes, say, 3-2 or 4-1 to end the year?
Mike Brown has shown loyalty to Dalton—in both job and financial security—so, thinking about letting him see the final year of his contract through isn’t total tinfoil hat material.
A Jon Kitna-like mentorship program
Some current Bengals fans aren’t old enough to remember the early days of Carson Palmer’s tenure in Cincinnati. When Cincinnati used the 2003 No. 1 overall pick on Palmer, they had a veteran in Kitna under contract.
In what isn’t as usual of a practice today, Marvin Lewis opted to go with the veteran journeyman, instead of the young Heisman Trophy winner. Kitna ended up taking every snap for the Bengals in 2003, nearly led them to a playoff berth and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Palmer took over as the starter in 2004, but Kitna stuck around through 2005. It was a relationship Palmer often noted as pivotal in his being a productive pro quarterback.
While Dalton’s $17.7 cap hit in 2020 isn’t peanuts, it’s only the 17th-highest number for the position next year. And, with the team annually coming in relatively-heavy under the salary cap, it may prove to not be a bank-breaker in an effort to regain competitiveness.
Cincinnati will most definitely draft a quarterback in a high round next year, so Dalton could help mentor the rookie. Some may say that Dalton might not be inclined to assist someone set to take his role in a short period of time, but if there is one constant to Andy Dalton, it’s in his high character.
Andy Dalton opened up on his faith, emotions when being benched. "This is just part of my story." pic.twitter.com/jC8Sk0cJAG— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) November 27, 2019
Allowing talented players to develop or heal up
Of “the big three” quarterbacks in next year’s draft (LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa), each have some questions. Burrow is the cleanest of the three, while Herbert has the talent, but is inconsistent, and Tagovailoa has significant injury concerns.
One could argue that 2020 could be a redshirt year, of sorts, for the latter two names. Herbert has all of the tools, but needs polishing, while Tagovailoa needs his dislocated hip to heal.
If Dalton shows a penchant to win in these final games, the Bengals lose draft positioning and cling to the “if we’re healthy” stance once again in 2020, they could grab Herbert or Tagovailoa and go with Dalton for one more year as the youngster gets groomed. If they go this route, Cincinnati would undoubtedly hope for a 2003-like campaign and a seamless passing of the torch in 2021. Or, if Dalton falters next year, it could be the rookie’s time to shine earlier than that.
Obviously, over the course of eight seasons and 132 games started, most feel as if they have a solid grasp on who Dalton is as an NFL quarterback. Aside from the tease seasons of 2013, 2015 and even parts of 2018 before his injury, the lone chip Dalton has to play with the Bengals is his potential fit in Taylor’s system. And, though he was missing a lot of help this year, the eight game sample size to start the season gave us a bit of insight as to the long-term outlook.
Giving more than 13 games and arguing that the potential uptick in performance at the end of the year with a healthier roster might intrigue the powers-that-be. To reiterate, this scenario isn’t one that is overly-likely, nor is it one in which we are particularly advocating, but this management group has shown unbending loyalty to certain players—particularly Dalton.
They could be open to the idea if Dalton gives them that patented tease of talent that has marked his nine-year career. Really—would anything this franchise does truly surprise you going forward?
Also on this week’s OBI episode:
- We welcome in MacGregor Wells of SB Nation’s Gang Green Nation Jets website to preview Week 13.
- How is Sam Darnold looking for the Jets and is year two where the biggest amount of growth is seen from him?
- The Jets were major players in outside free agency this past season, but it has blown up in their faces. What can be made of their moves and is there long-term viability with the acquisitions?
- The Bengals will probably be looking for receiver help next offseason and the middle rounds could provide value. Is USC’s Michael Pittman, Jr. a fit for Cincinnati?
- Cincinnati definitely needs offensive line help and Texas lineman Samuel Cosmi provides an intriguing option.
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