No position group on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster is more green than quarterback. A true rookie is slated to play his first-ever organized NFL game in Week 1 of the regular season, and his backups were both rookies last year.
We’re excited to get to know Joe Burrow, and we’re trying to forget about what Ryan Finley did last year, but the third quarterback on the team, Jake Dolegala, has a long-shot opportunity to alter the dynamic of the quarterback room.
College: Central Connecticut State
Hometown: Hamburg, N.Y.
Experience: two years
Dolegala is scheduled to make $675,000 in the second year of his three-year contract. His cap hit will be $676,666, as a third of his $5,000 signing bonus is scheduled to be prorated onto the books this year.
A northeasterner through and through, Dolegala played high school ball in his hometown of Hamburg, New York, which is five miles southwest of where the Buffalo Bills play. It took him three years to work his way up to the starting job on varsity, and he only played a fraction of the game until he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. This limited his opportunities to play at a prominent college program, which is how he ended up playing a year for Milford Academy, a prep school in central New York.
Dolegala transferred to CCSU a year later. After starting 44 games, he set school records for passing yardage and touchdowns. Though he had minimal high school experience and never made it above the FCS level, Dolegala earned himself an outside shot at making the NFL.
That shot came after the 2019 NFL Draft when the Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent. Being the second rookie quarterback the team added that weekend, Dolegala was a bit of an afterthought with most of the buzz surrounding fourth-round pick Ryan Finley. The Bengals traded up for Finley, after all, so Finley and his draft status and Division 1 resume assumed the role as Andy Dalton’s backup. Dolegala rounded out the quarterback group behind the two.
Late in the preseason was when we got a taste of what Dolegala was capable of on an NFL field. He finished the Bengals’ third preseason contest and played the entirety of the fourth game; throwing for 347 yards and two touchdowns on 6.5 yards per attempt. 94 of his yards and his two scores came on just 12 attempts in his first appearance.
Many thought his preseason performance would guarantee him a spot on the practice squad. A spot on the active roster is what Dolegala earned. He never did see the field in the regular season and was only activated once, but his raw arm talent was too tantalizing to let go.
Outlook for 2020
With the way this offseason has been and will continue to be, it’s hard to picture Dolegala’s second season looking any different than his first. He leveraged last year’s preseason to prove his worth and make the team, and that may be all he needed to do to stay on for this season. With first-overall pick Joe Burrow leading the quarterbacks room now, the Bengals are expected to carry three quarterbacks once more, and there are only three quarterbacks on the roster right now.
The downside is that without a preseason, the chances of Dolegala jumping Finley on the depth chart are slim-to-none. It was already a long shot, but with how terrible Finley looked in regular season action last year, it would’ve been interesting seeing the two partake in a competition for Burrow’s backup spot that we could all witness. Now, if there even is to be some challenging of Finley’s spot, it will take place solely on the practice field.
Just because it’s presumed that Cincinnati will carry three quarterbacks again doesn’t make it a guarantee. Now that practice squads feature 12 players instead of 10, the Bengals will have more flexibility in dealing with players like Dolegala. And with no preseason, it will be easier to stash Dolegala on the practice squad. In the end, that may not even be a factor.
The Bengals are putting a rookie under center, and his backup was the worst statistical quarterback of the 2019 season. They should want to keep Dolegala around for whatever happens.
Roster Odds: 75%