In an organization where money is such a hot-button issue, both for fans and ownership, this offseason is clouded by one major monetary issue. Quarterback Andy Dalton goes into the 2014 season on the last year of his rookie contract, and the Cincinnati Bengals must decide whether to go ahead and work out an extension with him now, or wait until the next offseason, when he’s a free agent. It’s a decision that will either keep them in the playoff race for the foreseeable future, or haunt them for the next several years.
Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoffs for three consecutive years, the first time that has happened in franchise history. His regular season numbers are more than good enough, having completed 60% of his passes for his career, with an average of 26 touchdowns and over 3,500 yards per season. More importantly, he’s 30-18 as a starter with the aforementioned playoff trips. Fans of the controversial signal caller have plenty to feel good about.
However, detractors have some things to work with as well, primarily his performances in the playoffs. In three playoff starts, Dalton is 0-3, with a completion percentage of 57%, one touchdown, six interceptions, and an average of a little over 200 yards per game. Perhaps more telling, he just doesn’t look confident, tending to panic under pressure, and making negative plays at the worst possible times. Those in favor of moving on are quick to point out the Bengals might be in “quarterback purgatory”, where they have a passer good enough to get to the playoffs, but not one good enough to advance once they get there.
The first thing to consider is the options the team has. If the Bengals don’t extend Dalton now, they are almost forced to draft a backup plan in the 2014 NFL Draft. Since later round picks have much lower success rate, a first round quarterback would be the best scenario. This would mean one of the big four in this draft would need to fall, leaving the Bengals to decide if they are a possible upgrade. The most likely options would be either Derek Carr of Fresno State, a big-armed pocket passer, or Johnny Manziel, the free-lancing running quarterback. If Cincinnati doesn’t think one of those guys is an upgrade over Dalton, then they are more inclined to ink Dalton now.
Cost is always a consideration, especially for the Bengals. Dalton figures to get around $15 million per year if he signs this offseason. That’s a lot of money, especially if team leadership doesn’t think he is the guy to get them to the Super Bowl. Mike Brown hinted that the team has held off on signing free agents this year because of the situation with Dalton. It’s potentially a big investment, and with AJ Green’s negotiations coming up, they want to keep cap flexibility.
If the Bengals wait until 2015, two possibilities exist. The first is that Dalton has a break-through season, and commands an even bigger contract. The second is that he shows no signs of growth and the Bengals are in a position where they have to start all over at the league’s most important position. Whatever the decision, it won’t be one made lightly.
This offseason is one that, whatever the decision on Dalton, will shape the organization for the next several seasons. Fans are hoping that their team, which has made the right choice more often than not recently, makes the right one here. If they choose to go with Dalton as the future, they’ll need to be right again. If not, fans are likely to face more disappointment in coming years. Being in quarterback purgatory is a bad place to be. The looming decision will determine whether or not the Bengals stay there, or finally escape.