As of yesterday the Bengals made a serious commitment; they signed Andy Dalton to what could be a 6 year/$115 million deal. Although Dalton has been, by far, the most polarizing player in recent Bengals’ history, this commitment should be endorsed by all fans for a few simple reasons.
Dalton’s deal gives the team stability and flexibility for the future. His deal was struck at a very important time and in a very important way. First off, striking his deal this year allows the team to understand where they are financially as they try to hash out the details of other important extensions such as those of AJ Green and Vontaze Burfict. It can be argued that Dalton’s deal should’ve followed theirs, but timing is an important point to consider here. The cap rose this year by $10 million from 2013, and is expected to rise even further going forward according to Albert Breer. If the future projection holds, and the cap is to rise this substantially in 2015, it’s easy to assume that quarterbacks may see the biggest bumps in potential salaries (especially as a percentage of a team’s total payout) as they demand the most money. Locking in Dalton now may actually make it easier to sign Green and Burfict who will command top dollar either way. Of the three players, it’s Dalton who actually stood to increase his pay the most in 2014 whereas both Green and Burfict’s value is largely already known going forward.
When looking over Dalton’s extension versus other quarterbacks he actually isn’t as overpaid as one may think. If Dalton does nothing to earn his $19 million in incentive dollars, then he’ll continue to be paid as an “average” quarterback going forward (currently 11th in the league in average salary with many other young QBs waiting to sign extensions of their own in he next year or two). If he does make it further into the playoffs, he stands to earn at most $19.167 million/year over the course of the contract. In doing so, he would become the 7th highest paid quarterback currently (and again, as a plethora of young quarterbacks are on the cusp of signing extensions). If Dalton won the Super Bowl this coming year, would you necessarily have a problem rewarding him with this type of contract going into a year with another substantial increase in the salary cap?
As reported by Mike Florio, Dalton’s deal is front-loaded, which gives the Bengals further flexibility in the future. The team still has the flexibility to sign both Green and Burfict to longer deals while also considering the fact that signing Dalton may have actually helped their efforts with Green specifically. This is what Green had to say recently:
“We came in together and that is the great thing for me and him. I know he’s my guy. I don’t want any other quarterback throwing me the ball. I think he feels the same way about me.”
When seeking to sign Green to an extension, it simply can’t hurt to have signed the quarterback he feels this way about.
Let’s say the team chooses to split from Dalton in three years. In 2017 the Bengals would save nearly $11 million against the cap (with $4.8 million in dead money). I chose this amount of time because this is probably how long it would probably take AJ McCarron to develop into the team’s starting quarterback while also giving Dalton time to prove whether or not he can improve, as the jury shold still be out on Dalton even given his struggles. Dalton is hardly the first quarterback to struggle in the playoffs within his first three years, yet it’s worth consideration that he did get there all three years. Because of this, casting him aside at this point simply isn’t a good idea especially considering the potential alternatives.
Heading into 2014 the Bengals will also need time to figure out if Dalton will benefit from new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s fresh game plan. Dalton has played well in a running style offense in the past and saw steady improvement in his game while leading it; he even earned his “winner” label coming out of college within this game plan. It’s an important fact considering that the only thing standing between Dalton and real success seems to be winning when it matters. In the NFL, winning during the playoffs requires the ability to run and last year’s team finished 27th in the league when considering yards/carry (3.6). Jackson’s game plan may help take some pressure off Dalton while putting him and the team in the best position to win going forward. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dalton took a step in the right direction the same year he returns to a more familiar and comfortable game plan which emphasizes his skills.
After this implementation if Dalton continues to flop, the Bengals will still need time to develop another starting-caliber quarterback. In today’s NFL it isn’t often a good idea to start a rookie from day one and Dalton’s signing ensures the Bengals won’t have to with McCarron or any other potential quarterback.
In the end it simply seems this contract is designed to benefit the team while “hedging it’s bets” when gambling on Dalton’s improvement. They have given themselves the kind of flexibility they’ll need going forward to retain the talented roster they’ve assembled while giving themselves time to figure out if Dalton really has plateaued. If he has, they’ll have the necessary time to develop another quarterback and will be able to move on from Dalton without substantial penalty. Most of all, the Bengals have created a contract that should make fans proud. It’s a well planned, team-friendly deal that is incentive-laden. It shows that the Bengals continue to be on the same page as it’s fan base; they both want to see Andy prove it.