Which Landing Spot Could Help Andy Dalton Become 2020's Ryan Tannehill?
It's easy to lose sight of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton when thinking about potential offseason action.
Lost behind impending free agents Tom Brady and Philip Rivers (to name a few), Dalton has one year left on his deal, was benched by new head coach Zac Taylor last season, mentioned a trade at the time and sits in purgatory as his team prepares to take a quarterback first overall in the 2020 NFL draft.
According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Joe Burrow will be the pick—though the nature of the NFL means the Bengals won't confirm that before the April 23-25 draft.
That leaves Dalton twisting in the wind and with the potential to be this year's Ryan Tannehill, meaning: a seemingly burnt-out veteran who changes teams and has enough talent to facilitate a playoff push in the right surroundings.
The following teams figure to have interest, the assets to make something work and a postseason shot if play under center improves.
The Jacksonville Jaguars don't jump out as a playoff contender, but neither did the Tennessee Titans before Tannehill took over. And the Jaguars are only a few seasons removed from a trip to the AFC title game.
But Jacksonville is otherwise interesting. The cap situation looks dire—the team sits $1.5 million over the limit—but there are some obvious cuts to free space, and the Jags could try to wiggle out of the four-year, $88 million Nick Foles contract. So the front office might have room to add talent via free agency. And the ninth and 20th picks sure don't hurt.
It's also bound to be an appealing quarterback destination thanks to DJ Chark Jr.'s breakout (1,008 yards, eight touchdowns), never mind Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook, both talented targets with upside.
Provided Dalton can manage better than the 60.6 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns and six picks Gardner Minshew II put up last year, the Jaguars could improve their 6-10 record.
And it's important not to forget the Jay Gruden factor. Jacksonville's new offensive coordinator helped bring Dalton into the league during some of the QB's best seasons. There's always an appeal to reuniting and hoping for a spark.
If the Jaguars want competition in the quarterback room, Dalton is a sensible add who can mentor Minshew—with the potential to be more.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also might not immediately come to mind as a Dalton destination.
But they should.
In 2013, former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer joined Bruce Arians in Arizona, and the duo enjoyed success. That same scenario could play out in Tampa—as Jameis Winston is a free agent—and see a career resurgence from Dalton.
Despite the lack of attention nationally and Winston's gaudy interception count (30), the Buccaneers won seven games last year. Dalton would probably play with one of his most talented supporting casts ever (which is saying something after 2015 with A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, etc.). That group boasts Mike Evans (1,157 yards, eight scores over 13 games last season), Chris Godwin (1,333, nine TDs, 14 games) and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
This would by no means be the perfect environment, especially after the line gave up 47 sacks last year. But Tampa Bay has shown a willingness to spend big (think Ndamukong Suh's one-year, $9.25 million contract in 2019) and has $85 million in cap space as well as a top-15 pick. On a borderline .500 team, Dalton might be the steady hand that pushes things over the top.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Philip Rivers era is over for the Los Angeles Chargers, and the quarterback search is on.
After nine or more wins in four out of six seasons, the Chargers fell from 12 victories to five in 2019 while Rivers regressed. It wasn't all his fault, but more consistent play might spur a return to double-digit wins.
Maybe Dalton is that answer. The Chargers hold the sixth pick—which could be just out of range for one of the draft's top passers—but Dalton can serve as more than just a bridge to a young QB.
They also have $51.8 million in cap space to upgrade around Dalton.
Not that the offensive arsenal lacks appeal. Even if Melvin Gordon III leaves via free agency, Dalton would have Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson in the backfield. Ekeler averaged 4.2 yards per carry last year and finished third on the team in receiving with 993 yards, never mind his team-leading eight receiving touchdowns.
There's also big-play tight end Hunter Henry to consider (if he re-signs), as well as arguably the game's most underrated receiver, Keenan Allen—owner of 1,199 yards and six scores last year. Breakout target Mike Williams keeps ascending, too, after 1,001 yards and two scores over 15 games.
The Chargers are far from perfect, but the world has already seen the 12-win upside as recently as two seasons ago. A steady hand from Dalton could be the boost necessary to get back on track.
It's hard to imagine the Indianapolis Colts are thrilled with Jacoby Brissett's play from last year after extending him in the aftermath of Andrew Luck's retirement. Brissett mustered a 60.9 completion percentage with just 18 touchdowns and six interceptions over 15 games.
Granted, things weren't perfect. But the ground attack averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and everyone knows the offensive line is one of football's better units. But tight end Eric Ebron grossly regressed, and no receiver even hit the 650-yard mark after the quarterback change.
Still, Indy has its appeal. It's close to Dalton's longtime home in Ohio, and the roster outlook isn't so bad. This team won 10 games in 2018, as well as a playoff contest, and has consistently made the postseason since about 1995.
The Colts have assets galore too. There's the top-15 pick to consider, as well as $86.1 million in cap space. On the field, T.Y. Hilton is still an elite wideout (501 yards, five scores, 10 games), and receiver Zach Pascal is on the ascent (607 yards, five scores, 16 games).
A high-upside youngster in 22-year-old Parris Campbell, plenty of targets out of the backfield and potential additions via all that cap space make it a comfortable landing spot for Dalton.
It's easy to see why. Mitchell Trubisky struggled in 2019, completing 63.2 percent of his attempts and tossing just 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The usual caveats apply: The line wasn't perfect, etc. But 2017's No. 2 pick has not given the Bears even close to the return on investment they were hoping for, especially with Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 pick in 2017) off winning a league MVP and a Super Bowl.
But the Bears don't have a ton of wiggle room to do much else besides add a veteran like Dalton. They don't pick until No. 43 in the second round, and cap space is limited ($13.4 million).
The outlook won't be hopeless if Dalton enters the fray, though. In fact, considering the Bears limped to an 8-8 mark in an NFC North that sent two teams to the playoffs, the upside is tremendous.
Dalton wouldn't hurt for weapons. David Montgomery flashed out of the backfield as a rookie in 2019, and running back Tarik Cohen caught 79 passes. Receiver Allen Robinson II flourished in head coach Matt Nagy's attack (1,147 yards, seven scores), and Anthony Miller looks to have No. 1 upside. Don't forget the star-studded defense.
The Bears would have to give up assets to get Dalton to town. But it would be an instant-turnaround sort of move that all parties could be happy about.
Salary-cap info via Spotrac.