POSITION (4): Andy Dalton, John Skelton, Zac Robinson, Josh Johnson
John Skelton (waivers)
Josh Johnson (free agency)
Bruce Gradkowski (Steelers)
Even though the starting quarterback job is firmly handled by Andy Dalton, the team wanted more out of the players behind him at that position. Replacing Bruce Gradkowski is the big-armed backup John Skelton (claimed off of waivers) and the athletic Josh Johnson. Along with Zac Robinson, who was on the practice squad last season, the Bengals will feature a training camp battle between three passers.
The Bengals aren't sure who the front runner is. Johnson, who nearly went unemployed all season last year, and Skelton, who nearly turned the football over (29) twice as many times as he's scored (15), are the leading candidates to replace Gradkowski. Robinson would be the dark horse in this race.
Andy Dalton holds a .594 win percentage as a starter (19-13 record), which is the best in franchise history for any QB with 10 or more starts. He played in the Pro Bowl after his rookie season, led Cincinnati to two postseason berths, and improved his numbers last season in mostly all major categories.
Twice in 2012, Dalton set a personal passer rating and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance during Cincinnati's Nov. 11 win against the N.Y. Giants. In 2011, Dalton set Bengals rookie records for TD passes (20) and passing yards (3,398), and became the first rookie quarterback in league history to win at least eight wins and throw for 20 or more touchdowns. He also was the first rookie quarterback not drafted in the first round to start every game in a 16-game NFL season.
Josh Johnson entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice for Tampa Bay in 2008 and played in 26 games with five starts for the Buccaneers through 2011. He was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an unrestricted free agent in 2012, but released by the 49ers during final preseason cuts. The Cleveland Browns signed Johnson for the final regular season game when several of their quarterbacks went down with injuries. Johnson's career numbers include 96 completions on 177 attempts (54.2 percent) for 1,042 yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also has a 6.9 yard career rushing average, with 37 carries for 254 yards.
Zac Robinson spent the last two seasons on the Bengals practice squad. A former New England Patriots draft pick that has been quietly part of the Bengals for two years. His hope is to crack the roster for the backup role.
John Skelton is a fourth year player with 17 NFL starts who was acquired on waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. He played seven games for the Cardinals in 2012 and won his first six home starts. Injuries crushed any possibility of retaining the starting job.
Theoretically, Bruce Gradkowski staying would have been ideal for the Bengals due to his experience in the system and familiarity with the players. Granted, Gradkowski only played four games with Cincinnati, and two of those were during mop-up duty. During the regular season opener in 2011, he replaced an injured Dalton, throwing a touchdown to take the lead.
And last year, Gradkowski gave Dalton a rest in the regular season finale last year against Baltimore, leading five scoring drives on 12 possessions.
That being said, the Bengals are not the same team if Dalton is not under center. I don't believe that the drop off is as dramatic as it was during the years before Dalton, but most teams in the NFL don't have the same confidence in their backup as they do in their starter. Dalton has said it himself, this is "his team", that he expects to make the playoffs, and to win once he is there.