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Andy Dalton Gets Benched, but Is He Done as an NFL Starter?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 29, 2019

CINCINNATI, OHIO - OCTOBER 20:   Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium on October 20, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Andy Dalton era may be over in Southwest Ohio. The 0-8 Cincinnati Bengals have benched their nine-year veteran quarterback in favor of rookie Ryan Finley, and with a new coaching staff in place, they're unlikely to keep him on the roster at a cost of $17.7 million in 2020. 

Considering those circumstances, it's surprising the Bengals didn't try to trade Dalton prior to Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Or maybe they did but didn't receive any interest in a 32-year-old who has never won a playoff game and has the league's fifth-lowest qualified passer rating since the start of 2017

But you know whose numbers are even worse?

A guy named Joe Flacco, who, unlike Dalton, has never made a Pro Bowl (Dalton has made three). Flacco has a worse career completion percentage, touchdown rate, yards-per-attempt average and passer rating than Dalton, and he's two years older.

Flacco was supplanted in Baltimore by 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson. But because he's a strapping, big-armed, prototypical pocket quarterback, the 34-year-old landed with the Denver Broncos this past offseason.

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Don't kid yourself into believing the same thing won't happen to Dalton in 2020. Don't underestimate this league's obsession with quarterback recycling.

If Broncos general manager John Elway was willing to give Flacco another shot after the washed-up veteran failed to throw more than 20 touchdown passes in four consecutive seasons, someone might be willing to kick off the next decade with the Red Rifle as their starter. 

Never mind that Dalton has lost 11 consecutive starts, or that he hasn't even been a top-20 quarterback at Pro Football Focus in four of his eight full seasons. Never mind that in four career playoff games, he has one touchdown pass, eight turnovers, a 57.8 passer rating and, of course, four losses.

Never mind all of that, because Flacco has pedigree. He was a relatively high draft pick (No. 35 in 2011), and for some reason, the team that drafted him held on for eight-and-a-half seasons. Someone is bound to have enough hubris to figure they can get more out of this guy than the Bengals were able to. 

Hell, seeing how poorly the Flacco experience has gone in Denver, that someone could even be Elway, who might not have the rope or the patience to go back into the draft but might feel the need to swing the bat at one more established signal-caller in order to save his job. 

Beyond that, the market could contain any of the following teams:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers, who at any point could be looking to replace the tired-looking, currently injured Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben will be 38 next year, and the Steelers don't have a first-round pick in April's draft. 
  • Tennessee Titans, who look to be done with walk-year quarterback Marcus Mariota and might not want to tie their future to failed former Miami Dolphin Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee is 4-4 right now and might not pick high enough to reel in one of the draft's big fish. 
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who might be ready to move on from Jameis Winston. After reviving Carson Palmer's career in Arizona, could head coach Bruce Arians try to get more late-career juice out of another former Bengal? 
  • Chicago Bears, who, like Pittsburgh and Tennessee, lack a first-round pick. Chicago should be prepared to move on from third-year No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, who has, by all indications, regressed. 
  • Los Angeles Chargers, if Philip Rivers leaves as a free agent (unlikely) or retires (slightly less unlikely). 
  • New Orleans Saints, if Drew Brees retires and Teddy Bridgewater gets away. 
  • New England Patriots, if ESPN's Adam Schefter is onto something about Tom Brady's future.

A lot of those scenarios are far-fetched. But bring them all together and it's easy to figure that Dalton will have a shot at a job outside of Ohio in 2020. And depending on how the carousel turns for potential free agents Mariota, Winston, Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Bridgewater, Flacco, Trubisky, Cam Newton and Eli Manning, he could wind up serving as a Week 1 starter.

This league loves talented retreads, even if that talent hasn't born fruit elsewhere.

Joey Harrington was a bust with the Detroit Lions, but he still got shots with both the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. Sam Bradford failed miserably during his tenure with the St. Louis Rams, but he still landed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Cardinals before general managers learned to stay away. Blaine Gabbert seemed to have nine NFL lives, too, and we've seen teams try and fail to revive quarterback misses like those time and again. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

So don't bet against Dalton landing another job for his age-33 season. It's just not as much of a lock as it was with Flacco because it's possible teams are learning from past mistakes like that one, as well as those made with Harrington, Bradford and Gabbert.

Unlike all those guys, Dalton wasn't a first-round pick and isn't particularly tall or strong-armed relative to his counterparts. Unlike Flacco, he hasn't won a Super Bowl. And the market could be flooded next spring by that aforementioned batch of potential free agents. 

Still, Dalton has never been particularly well-supported by a Bengals organization that operates as though it is allergic to free agency.

His pass protection has resembled a comedy routine in recent years, the offense has had just two 1,000-yard rushers in the last six seasons, the Cincinnati defense has ranked below the league median in each of the last three campaigns, and top wide receiver A.J. Green has missed 21 of the team's last 56 games. 

Dalton could still excel in the right environment, with the right coaches and with the requisite talent and depth in his supporting cast. That's something he often lacked in Cincy, and that's what general managers will tell themselves if and when they pursue him in March. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.