There is no question that the contract talks with Andy Dalton have been the most popular topic of conversation for the Cincinnati Bengals' offseason. The Red Rifle is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
He is due to make just under $1 million for his base salary, and the Bengals will take a total cap hit of $1,659,063 for having Dalton. This certainly isn't the money that a franchise quarterback makes.
And that brings the ultimate question that so many continue to ask: Is Andy Dalton actually going to be the franchise quarterback fans once thought he could be? On paper, his stats show the story of a man who deserves a big extension. Through three years in Cincinnati, Dalton has thrown 80 touchdowns and only 49 interceptions, and he has totaled 11,360 yards.
However, the glorious thing about the NFL is that paper and reality are often very different things. While the Bengals haven't missed the postseason during Dalton's tenure, they haven't won one of those three games. Further, his performance during those games remains a huge reason as to why none of them were wins.
In three playoff starts, the Bengals signal-caller has thrown for just one score and has turned the ball over eight times. Now, while paper shows the stats of a franchise quarterback, in reality, that is simply not what Dalton is.
He's inconsistent, one of the least clutch players in the league and is not worth taking as much of the payroll as he would if he were to be signed to a lucrative contract.
Aside from his statistics, you will not be able to convince me that Dalton is more worthy of that money than A.J. Green or Vontaze Burfict. The simple fact is that the NFL is a business, and to keep the best, you may have to say goodbye to some of the good.
Keep in mind that the Bengals have already picked up their fifth-year option on A.J. Green, which means he will make over $10 million in 2015. Meanwhile, Burfict is in the final year of his contract and is going to make a measly $570,333. If the organization wishes to keep arguably a top-five linebacker in the NFL, they can expect that number to have a couple extra digits.
If Cincinnati signs a so-so quarterback to a massive contract, one or both of its stars will get away. It is also worth keeping in mind that Kevin Zeitler's contract is up after 2015, and he's a staple on the offensive line.
Now, of course, if Dalton comes out this season and shows a whole new quarterback, we have a different kind of conversation to have. We all know the story of Joe Flacco, who was in the same position Dalton now sits.
He went and won a Super Bowl and is now one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.
Only this season will tell if Dalton has improved. And all this is not to say I'm a believer in AJ McCarron. The argument that could be made here is, "If not Dalton, then who?" It is a moot point right now.
It's been clear over the past couple of years that the Bengals have been in great shape to win the division and further. They can still be so if they retain their stars, which we can't be sure Dalton is at this moment. Trying to look ahead past him cannot be a part of his negotiations.
It may end up biting the Bengals in the rear to not sign Dalton to an extension this offseason, but it is an unwise risk to take with an unproven quarterback. There is way too much risk involved, especially when you are discussing the most vital piece of an NFL franchise.
If Dalton wins a playoff game, or had won any of the three he's been in, this conversation could be wildly different.
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