The Bengals hit the reset button moving on from long-time head coach Marvin Lewis. The team may be wise to consider doing the same with Andy Dalton.
The Cincinnati Bengals have begun the search for a new identity under their rookie head coach Zac Taylor. A potential quarterback change could be the starting point in that quest.
Andy Dalton has proved to be an above average starting quarterback talent in the NFL. The eight-year signal caller has the statistics to instill confidence in fans, but the overall body of work Dalton has shown hasn’t translated to any postseason success.
There is an attraction of keeping the three-time Pro Bowler under center. The quarterback now finally has an offensive-minded head coach, with a quarterback background, for the first time in his career, but it’s fair to question if it’s the correct move for the franchise to tie Taylor’s coaching career on the success of Dalton.
The quarterback turns 32 during the 2019 season and the chances of Cincinnati seeing much more improvement in Dalton probably aren’t high. He is what he is at this point in his career. Bengals now have an opportunity to start over and build from the ground up — doing so with a quarterback with two-to-three seasons left in the tank may prove to hurt more than helping the rebuild.
Moving on from former head coach, Marvin Lewis, after 15 years to a relatively unknown position coach in Taylor is a culture shock for a franchise looking to end their winless postseason drought of 28 seasons. Taylor brings in a fresh perspective and voice, and a change at quarterback could provide the missing piece in ending the drought.
Dalton’s name on the trade market would quickly generate interest from any quarterback-needy teams looking for a veteran presence in their quarterback room. It’s up to Cincinnati to consider this may be the beginning of the final opportunities to take full advantage of his market value. The veteran can still be a quality starter, but shouldn’t be relied on as more than a game manager at this point in his career. The Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the New York Giants present themselves as possible trading partners.
The Redskins appear to be operating as a team that saw what they could do with adequate quarterback play. Alex Smith is poised to miss the 2019 season after suffering a gruesome leg injury that ultimately could prove to be career-threatening. When Smith was under center, after the Redskins traded away a second-round pick and Kendall Fuller for the quarterback, the team was rolling to a quick 6-4 start. Washington could be willing to trade away another draft pick to obtain a starting caliber veteran like Dalton.
Smith was asked to manage the game on offense and Dalton could handle those same duties. Redskins head coach, Jay Gruden, who was also Dalton’s offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, offers a much-needed familiarity that works in Bengals’ favor seeking a trading partner, which makes Washington a likely landing spot for Dalton.
The Bengals would likely receive multiple of draft picks in return for their quarterback with negotiations starting with a second-round pick. That haul leads to needed compensation when identifying Dalton’s replacement, especially in the draft, where Cincinnati could look for their long-term starter, and have the ammunition it would require to land their future quarterback.
Taylor has a history with what looks to become the inevitable former quarterback of the Miami Dolphins in Ryan Tannehill. The two spent four seasons together when Taylor was the quarterback coach of the Miami Dolphins. The change in scenery for the former first-round pick may help, but Tannehill has proven not to be capable of becoming a franchise quarterback. Still an intriguing stop-gap starter option for the Bengals nonetheless.
Los Angeles Rams backup quarterback, Sean Mannion, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and has worked in the same quarterback room with Taylor. The fit makes sense and should be the most expected signing of the Bengals offseason, but he too also offers another stop-gap caliber of starter for a rookie quarterback making the transition into the NFL.
Why not keep Dalton and have him groom his predecessor?
Dalton’s value, to go along with cap relief, outweighs the prospect of keeping him on as a lame duck. Sticking with the soon-to-be former quarterback while grooming his replacement could result in a media circus.
Dalton may not be willing to stand pat as Smith did in Kansas City while the team drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first-round in 2017, which allowed him to sit out his rookie season during the path of development. The proverbial writing on the wall for Dalton’s future could bring up trade demands, and that is the wrong situation to ask of a first-year head coach to deal with trying to build a new culture in the locker room.
The long-term cap relief for Taylor to mold the Bengals into what he envisions the team becoming is also intriguing when considering moving on from Dalton. The quarterback’s contract is very team friendly in terms of trading or releasing him as well as having two affordable seasons left on the six-year, $96 million dollar extension the veteran signed in 2014. Cincinnati would avoid any penalty moving on from their eight-year starter while gaining a little over $16 million in cap space this offseason, which gives the team a little over $63.5 million in cap space to work with reshaping the roster.
Trading for Dalton on his current contract becomes more enticing for teams as he carries such a low cap hit in 2019 and 2020 for a starting quarterback. The Bengals quarterback is also coming off a season-ending thumb injury, so Dalton’s leverage in asking for a long-term commitment appears low at the moment. That means the team that acquires Dalton’s services gets to evaluate him as their starter while having him on an affordable deal, which is excellent for Cincinnati in terms of receiving the proper value return in a potential trade.
The best solution for Cincinnati’s quarterback position is to draft their ideal franchise-leading prospect. The team has the 11th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft and has a roster constructed to pick near the late teens-early twenties year in and year out the way it’s built. This upcoming draft could potentially be their once in a lifetime shot to pull the trigger on a quarterback with a high pick taking into account the potential return package the team receives for Dalton.
While the team could sit tight and let the signal caller fall into their hands, they may need to do some moving up the draft order to grab the quarterback they covet — that quarterback should be Drew Lock.
Lock’s play at Missouri, throwing for 95 touchdowns as a starter, has cemented him in first-round pick consideration. Another underrated benefactor of drafting the young signal caller and pairing him with a first-year coach like Taylor would be his experience this past season in a pro-style offense.
Lock played his final season in Missouri under first-year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley. Dooley’s NFL background integrated into the team’s offense that saw the quarterback throw for the most pass attempts of his collegiate career (437) and a career-high 62.9 completion percentage.
The pairing of Taylor and Lock makes sense for the long-term. Each of their successes, or shortcomings, would forever be tied together. Taylor’s understanding of the quarterback position to go along with what he’s learned — how to accomplish becoming a Super Bowl caliber team after leaving just that with Sean McVay’s pass-happy offense in Los Angeles — would be a fantastic pairing for the gunslinger out of Missouri.
A pairing of a rookie head coach and a young quarterback is the blueprint for long-term success. The harsh reality fans have to face — can the Bengals immediately win with Dalton? The answer is yes; the team can either finish over .500 or qualify to make the playoffs with him as the starter. Does that translate to postseason success? Most likely not; given Dalton’s record of 6-19 in a primetime matchup.
Moving on from a quality starter like Dalton is tough, but asking a first-time head coach to work with what he’s inherited is a recipe for failure. The Bengals are starting over with a new head coach. The team would be wise to start over at quarterback as well.