Don’t look now, but we might have a semi-surprise quarterback-drafting team on our hands in April, folks. It’s a new era in Cincinnati, and their offseason moves and cap situation suggest to me that Andy Dalton’s time as the face of the franchise could be coming to a close.
First, there is the obvious: no more Marvin Lewis. Duke Tobin and Mike Brown remaining in place certainly makes Dalton a little more likely to remain as the starter, but a new head coach in Zac Taylor offers the opportunity to turn the page at the most important position in the game. Dalton is not the biggest problem in Cincinnati, but he isn’t the solution either.
Currently, Dalton carries a $16.2M cap hit into this season, but the dead cap hit if he is released or traded? Zero. And there are only two more seasons left on his deal, as Dalton is slated to hit free agency in 2021.
The obvious time to trade Dalton is now, but there hasn’t been any whispers of that so far this offseason, so it appears he’ll at least be on the Bengals roster in 2019. That doesn’t mean the team isn’t looking for a quarterback however, meeting with signal callers at the Combine to at least begin that process.
The issue, of course, is that the Bengals are drafting at no. 11 overall, with several quarterback-needy teams ahead of them. I do believe we could see only 1-2 drafted in the top ten picks, but if they have their sights set on one of those passers, particularly Kyler Murray, things could get a bit hairy.
Do the Bengals have it in themselves to be aggressive and go get the guy they really want at the position? Will they feel that strongly about any of the quarterbacks in this class?
One thing is for certain, their offseason moves have given them the desired flexibility to at least act accordingly should the apple of their eye slide at all in the draft. Preston Brown is back as the team’s middle linebacker next to Vontaze Burfict to the tune of three years, $21M, and Bobby Hart is back at right tackle for the same amount.
You can disagree with the decisions (you should), but offensive tackle and linebacker were easily the two biggest holes for Cincinnati heading into the offseason, and those two re-signings have now taken the need, at least in the eyes of the Bengals front office, somewhat off the table. It doesn’t mean they won’t draft a linebacker or a tackle or even a tight end at no. 11, but the options are wide open and the interest in the quarterback position is clearly there.
Now, which quarterback could the team be targeting if they do decide to turn the page on the Chapter of Dalton? Extremely difficult to say at this point. It feels like Tobin has a little more control now, but nothing has changed at quarterback or head coach for so long in Cincinnati that it is really impossible to say where he will fall on the position.
As for Taylor, he’s 35 years old and has only been coaching above a graduate assistant level since 2012. During that time he worked for four years with Ryan Tannehill, one year at the University of Cincinnati with Hayden Moore and then with the Rams and Jared Goff. At all of those places Taylor either inherited the starter or was not a factor in the decision-making process to acquire the player in the first place.
We can draw small inferences from the systems he’s worked in and likely drawn from under Joe Philbin and especially Sean McVay. Taylor has already said the Bengals playbook will draw heavily from what they did in L.A., which suggests plenty of play-action, downfield shots, 11 personnel and lots of variety in the screen game. His quarterbacks have never been run-game participants, but mobility is a factor to consider with Jared Goff and Ryan Tannehill’s games.
On the surface, that would appear to make Drew Lock a favorite for Cincinnati, at least out of the quarterbacks in this class. Assuming Murray is off the board, Lock is a much better downfield passer than Dwayne Haskins, easily more athletic and he worked on footwork from under center all of his senior season at Missouri, which could be beneficial to converting to a play-action heavy offense.
Of course, Haskins could improve and develop in all of those ways, but right now I believe Lock has an advantage on him in some key areas that the Bengals may value, while Haskins is admittedly a more accurate short-intermediate passer.
Cincinnati has also met with Daniel Jones at the Combine and shown some interest there. It would be a little surprising to see him selected at no. 11, but if they pass on a quarterback in Round 1, Jones might still be around at no. 42.
Which quarterback the organization values the most remains to be seen and discussed, but we need to start talking about the Bengals as serious players for a signal caller in this year’s draft. From a team need perspective to the new offensive scheme to the new head coach to Dalton’s contract, the time has come for the Bengals to introduce a new face of the organization and close the door on a promising, but ultimately disappointing chapter in franchise history.