CINCINNATI — The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The quarterback doesn’t always have to be the best player on the field for his team to win but he cannot be among the worst.
The Bengals believe they have the right quarterback for them in Andy Dalton. Andy Dalton believes he’s the right quarterback for the Bengals. On Wednesday, Dalton will report in for his fourth training camp with the Bengals. His bosses have no doubt that it won’t be his last even if he is entering the final year of his contract and the two sides have yet to find that acceptable middle ground that will result in an extension.
Dalton hasn’t been the best player on the field all of the time the last three seasons for the Bengals but he’s helped them to 30 wins. He’s been among the worst players on the field in some critical moments, most notably three consecutive losses in the first round of the playoffs. Those moments stick out but they’re not dissuading the Bengals from the belief that Dalton is their guy.
Mike Brown has always been a quarterback guy, and his franchise has had some good ones in the past — Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Jeff Blake and Carson Palmer — and some not-so-good ones.
He believes in Dalton and that is the bottom line.
"I think he is an exceptional person. Nobody has more respect in our building than he. I would tell you of all the quarterbacks we have had he is respected by his teammates as much as any of them," said the Bengals team president during the annual pre-training camp media luncheon Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium. "We judge quarterbacks by different standards. How do they throw? How do they run? How do they lead? People will put him at different levels on those standards. I think that the one standard that counts much is did he win? So far around here he’s won nine (games), he’s won 10, he’s won 11. That’s pretty good.
"He knows and we know, everybody knows, we didn’t win in the playoffs. We have to get over that hump. First we have to win the opportunity to have another crack at it. That is going to be difficult but we are counting on him to get us to that point."
The Bengals will face the looming question of their past postseason failures all season. Until they and Dalton work out a deal, whenever that might be, that question will also linger whether they want to answer it or not.
Head coach Marvin Lewis was quite clear regarding his thoughts about discussing with the outside world the status of the contract negotiations and if a deal would need to be done prior to the season opener in Baltimore on Sept. 7:
"We’re not going to talk about it anymore. Thank you," said Lewis. "That’s the same thing (Dalton)’s going to tell you when he gets to tell you. We’ve talked enough about it. It’ll get settled, and when it gets settled it will be done."
Chicago decided in January that it wanted Jay Cutler to be its guy, so much so that the Bears and Cutler agreed to a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million, including $38 million guaranteed with the possibility of greater guaranteed money in the future. San Francisco extended the contract of Colin Kaepernick for another six years and $114 million but only a little less than $13 million of that total is guaranteed at this point. It’s a team-friendly deal.
Those are the two deals that most affect the negotiations between the Bengals and Dalton. Negotiations of this sort between team and the most vital of its position players aren’t easy. In the NFL’s salary cap market the veteran quarterback with a winning track record is going to command a large chunk of the team’s money pie. How much of a chunk that quarterback gets without degrading the core of the team is difficult to balance.
One of these days the news will come out that Dalton and the Bengals have come to terms. It might be Thursday before the first training camp practice ends. It might be before the season opener. Or it might not be until next offseason. But it will get done.
"I like him on the field. He’s steady Eddie. He competes. He doesn’t do stupid things," said Brown. The last characteristic of Dalton’s play he mentioned can be debated. Brown’s belief in Dalton cannot.
"We might not outshine everybody but we are the turtle in the race if you will and don’t count us out we are going to keep on chugging. That’s what he does for us. He keeps us focused. He makes us a winning team. I don’t discount that. I hold that in high regard."