Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters Monday that Dalton will start Sunday's game against the New York Jets, taking over for Ryan Finley. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network noted that Finley's ascent to the starting job was "about evaluation," so it appears Taylor is satisfied knowing Finley is not the franchise's quarterback of the future.
Taylor said Dalton's return is all about getting the win against New York, per Marisa Contipelli:
Dalton, 32, was benched after throwing for 2,252 yards and nine touchdowns against eight interceptions in the Bengals' first eight games. Finley, a rookie fourth-round pick, has struggled mightily in his three starts, throwing for 474 yards and two touchdowns against as many picks.
Dalton is in his ninth season as the Bengals' starting quarterback, but it's expected to be his last. Cincinnati is an NFL-worst 0-11, with a two-game lead over the next-worst team, and in position to draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall for the first time since taking Carson Palmer in 2003.
Dalton has one year and $17.5 million remaining on his contract, none of which is guaranteed. The Bengals could release or trade him without incurring any dead cap penalties.
It's possible the Bengals could use the rest of the season to showcase Dalton for potential trade partners. Taylor told reporters he expects Dalton to remain the starter for the season's final five games. While few would ever confuse Dalton with an elite option under center, he is at the very least a competent NFL quarterback who just turned 32 years old.
The Baltimore Ravens were able to trade Joe Flacco for a fourth-round pick last offseason. It's not an unfair assumption that Dalton could garner a mid-round draft choice for a quick-fix improvement, or even a high-priced backup—assuming Dalton would be willing to renegotiate his contract as part of a trade.
The contention that the Bengals are doing this as a win-now move doesn't necessarily track. It's in the franchise's best interest at this point to continue losing and wrap up the No. 1 pick. Even with a two-game lead, all it takes is a 3-2 record over their final five games and another team losing out to push the Bengals backward.
It appears the Bengals are comfortable enough with their draft positioning to give Dalton a showcase in his likely sendoff.