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We knew when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted LSU’s Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft last week that it was the dawn of a new age for the franchise.
On Thursday, the previous era officially ended.
After nine years, 31,594 passing yards, 204 touchdown passes, 70 victories, 24 game-winning drives and four postseason starts, the Bengals released Andy Dalton (at his request), according to ESPN’s Ben Baby and Josina Anderson.
The 32-year-old, who was a second-round pick of the Bengals in 2011 (the same year A.J. Green joined the team), led Cincy to a winning record and postseason berth in each of his first five seasons. But the Bengals lost on Wild Card Weekend each time, the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015 and Dalton was benched in favor of Ryan Finley for a stretch last year.
After making his last start for the team in the 2019 finale, Dalton reflected on his time in the Queen City.
“This city has been our home since I got drafted here, and this city’s meant a lot,” Dalton said, per Baby. “I’m thankful for all the people that we’ve met. There’s been a lot of good people in Cincinnati who have pushed me, my wife and my family to be better people, and we’re grateful for that.”
It’s an especially rotten year to get released. A glut of available veteran signal-callers has created the weirdest market in recent memory. Last year’s leader in passing yards, Jameis Winston, settled for a one-year, $1.1 million deal to back up Drew Brees in New Orleans. The 2015 NFL MVP, Cam Newton, is still looking for work after the Carolina Panthers let him go.
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Still, weird market or no, a few potential landing spots make sense from both a player and team perspective for Dalton’s second NFL stint—headlined by a franchise he’s been linked to by some pundits for weeks.
New England Patriots
In the beginning of March, Bleacher Report’s own Mike Freeman wrote the Patriots had at least some interest in Dalton.
“Several teams have mentioned to me that the Patriots’ reported interest in Dalton is real,” Freeman noted. “Bill Belichick, like others around the league, believes Dalton has untapped potential and that it’s been hard to decipher how truly good or bad he is because he’s played in Cincinnati.”
However, Jeff Howe of The Athletic reported otherwise, tweeting that Dalton, “hasn’t been discussed among the Pats’ immediate plans.”
But that was before the NFL draft—and back when acquiring Dalton would have cost the Patriots a pick. New England wouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to bring Dalton in now but some cash, and the team (surprisingly, at least in the eyes of some) didn’t select a quarterback last week.
New England’s signal-callers are veteran Brian Hoyer and second-year pro Jarrett Stidham. Per ESPN’s Mike Reiss (via Justin Tasch of the New York Post), the Patriots are confident in Stidham’s ability to lead the team.
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“The short answer is they are intrigued enough with what they’ve seen from Jarrett Stidham that they want to keep investing in him,” Reiss said. “On Saturday night after the draft, Bill Belichick said Stidham improved a lot behind the scenes last year, and that they will see where that takes him.”
But we’re talking about a 34-year-old with one start over the last two seasons and a fourth-round pick who has never started a game in the pros.
It’s not hard to make a compelling argument that Dalton is an upgrade over both.
As much sense as the Patriots make for Dalton, the Jacksonville Jaguars make even more—at least in the opinion of ESPN’s Louis Riddick:
The reasons a Dalton-to-Jacksonville reunion with Jay Gruden could be a good idea go well beyond familiarity with a former coach, though. In fact, the biggest one predates Gruden’s arrival in Duval County by quite some time.
The Jags have seemingly been searching for an answer under center dating back to the days when Mark Brunell slung passes left-handed for the Jaguars from 1995 to 2003. There have been flashes of success from Byron Leftwich, David Garrard and even Blake Bortles, but when the Jaguars played well, it was usually in spite of their quarterback, not because of him.
Jacksonville signed Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract last year in the hopes of ending that search, but one year later the Jaguars flipped Foles to the Chicago Bears for a Day 3 pick. That tells you all you need to know about how that worked out.
After Foles hurt his shoulder in Week 1 last year, rookie Gardner Minshew II took over as the starter. Head coach Doug Marrone told John Oehser of the team’s website that he’s looking for a big step forward from Minshew in his second season.
“Obviously, we want to see a big jump,” Marrone said. “We’re excited for him. It’s a great opportunity. He’s not going to change the way he is. He’s a hardworking kid who has a lot of potential. We’ve got to make sure everyone around him is doing their job and doing it at a high level.”
Minshew had his moments as a rookie. But he also barely completed 60 percent of his passes and struggled mightily at times. There’s also next to nothing on the Jaguars depth chart behind him—the team’s backup is fourth-year pro Josh Dobbs, whose next NFL start will be his first.
Like the Jaguars, the Denver Broncos have been searching for a long-term solution under center for a while. Since Peyton Manning rode off into all the commercials ever following Denver’s win in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos have trotted out a number of rookies and veterans alike at the position. The results, have been…um…let’s go with less than ideal.
However, like the Jags, the Broncos hope to have found the answer in a recent draftee. Drew Lock, a second-round pick last year, led the Broncos on a nice run to close out the 2019 campaign, and Broncos general manager John Elway expressed confidence in Lock on Wednesday, telling Rich Eisen (h/t Aric DiLalla of the team’s website):
Gary Landers/Associated Press
“We knew [Lock] had the physical ability to move around. He [ran] a 4.6 at the Combine. But how he was going to handle the whole situation with the lights turned on, and I think that was the most encouraging thing that we saw was he enjoyed playing the game. He came in like he’d been there before. He was able to bounce back from mistakes and not let mistakes bother him.”
Lock did indeed have his moments—he completed 64.1 percent of his passes and threw just three interceptions while going 4-1 over his five starts. The Broncos spent the offseason improving the team around their young signal-caller, upgrading the offensive line, running back corps and wide receivers in both free agency and the draft.
Of the teams listed here, the Broncos have the most realistic shot at making a playoff run in 2020.
But while Lock played relatively well in limited action in 2019, it was still just that—a small sample size. Even if the Broncos are 100 percent sold on him as the starter, the team could use a mentor for Lock and better depth behind him.
As things stand, Denver’s backup is the recently signed Jeff Driskel. He’s made eight starts over two NFL seasons with the Bengals and Detroit Lions.
He won one of them.