The Bengals won’t be keeping Andy Dalton as the backup quarteback to No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. Cincinnati finally released its long-time starter Thursday, one week after drafting Burrow.
With Jameis Winston signing with the Saints, it’s now Dalton and fellow 2011 draftee Cam Newton as the best quarterbacks available in NFL free agency.
So that immediately brings up the question: Does Dalton become a realistic option for the Patriots? Second-year QB Jarrett Stidham remains New England’s starting replacement for Tom Brady after the team neither added a veteran contingency option nor drafted any rookie competition. Second, how does Dalton’s sudden availablity affect the unsigned status of Newton?
Here’s breaking down what Dalton’s release means for the two biggest quarterback queries left in the 2020 NFL offseason:
Would the Patriots sign Andy Dalton?
Dalton is a 32-year-old three-time Pro Bowler. The times he was at his best with the Bengals, he had everything in place around him with the receving corps, offensive line, running game and defense. “Game manager” is an unfair label for Dalton, but “dependent” is not. He won’t carry a team with limitations in the way Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers do. But he can lean well on a good supporting cast to be efficient and win a lot of games.
The Patriots have some seasoned answers with their wideouts in Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu, who had good chemistry with Dalton in Cincinnati. They have a solid front and did a draft overhaul of their tight ends. They can rebound as a stronger running team and should still feel confident in their defense.
So the enviroment is favorable for Dalton to “do his job” for Bill Belichick with the intelligence to pick up Josh McDaniels’ offense well in a crash course. The problem is, Dalton doesn’t really offer more upside than Stidham, who already has a year in the system and is capable of at least being a caretaker to meet the Patriots’ needs with the potenital for more. The Patriots also have only around $1 million under the salary cap, and it’s not worth it to free up room for Dalton at the cost of likely cutting or trading from the offense elsewhere.
There wasn’t much of a sense that the Patriots were interested in trading for Dalton before the draft. After the draft, knowing they didn’t address the position over all three days, it would be odd for them to want to grab Dalton now. Just like with Newton, attaching New England to Dalton seems to be out of convenience, rather than reality, although for different reasons.
Would Andy Dalton be signed ahead of Cam Newton?
Unfortunately, Dalton’s release creates another obstacle for Newton in trying to find a team. Part of the reason the Patriots would be out on Newton are the unknown quantites regarding his health and personality fit. Part of the reason other teams haven’t acted on Newton are concerns on whether he would be a willing veteran backup.
There’s no issue like that with Dalton. He has the right makeup to accept that job. He also has a better direct connection to a possible landing spot for Newton.
The Jaguars hired Jay Gruden as their offensive coordinator. Gruden also was in that capacity for the Bengals when Dalton was an immediate successful starter during his first three seasons in the league. There’s a very good chance with Gardner Minshew currently backed up by rookie sixth-rounder Jake Luton and former Steeler Joshua Dobbs, that Dalton ends up serving as the veteran No. 2 they need to help Minshew with the transition.
Newton had some similar connections with the Broncos (Mike Shula) and the Redskins (Scott Turner). But the Broncos made their offseason all about supporting and further developing second-year QB Drew Lock instead of turning back to the bridge veteran route. The Redskins already traded for Newton’s former teammate, Kyle Allen, to bring some offensive familiarty to pair with second-year QB Dwayne Haskins.
It’s difficult to see Dalton having a long wait to land with another team, with Jacksonville being the ideal, most logical new spot. As for the Patriots and Newton, Dalton entering the market likely does nothing to change their current situations, for better or worse.