The Bengals have their quarterback of the present and future.
The team and Andy Dalton agreed to a six-year, $115 million contract extension on Monday. The agreement was reported Monday morning by various outlets and the two sides announced the deal in the afternoon. The extension runs through the 2020 season.
Dalton, a second-round draft pick in 2011, was entering the final year of his rookie contract and was scheduled to make a base salary of just under $1 million. Specifics of the deal, including guarantees and annual salary cap breakdowns, have not been announced.
Both Dalton and the Bengals have said throughout the negotiation process that they wanted to come to an agreement. Prior to Monday's news, team president Mike Brown voiced his admiration and belief in Dalton as recently as two weeks ago at the team's annual pre-training camp media luncheon. Those public words had been the same thing Dalton was hearing behind the scenes.
"This is unbelievable and I'm blessed to be in the position that I'm in," said Dalton in a video interview with the team's official web site. "To hear it is one thing but now that it's officially done, where I know I'm going to be here a long time and it shows the support they have for me. I'm excited for the future and to be here for awhile."
Finding a market value for Dalton that his representatives and the team could agree upon was difficult. Dalton has a lot of plusses on his side; he's never missed a start in his three seasons. He has set franchise records for passing yards in a season, touchdown passes in a season, and he's led the team to the postseason in all three seasons as their victory total has increased from nine to 10 to 11 wins in that time. It's the first time in franchise history the team has been to the playoffs three straight seasons.
Then there is the matter of how Dalton has played in those postseason games. One touchdown, six interceptions and a lost fumble have contributed heavily to three straight defeats in which the offense has produced just two touchdowns. It's a criticism that Dalton will carry with him until the team can win a postseason game.
"A lot of things are media-driven, at the end of the day the guy is in his fourth season in the NFL. He's not a 10-year veteran," veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth told the Cincinnati Enquirer Monday. "What he's done is been able to show a consistency in who he is and how he is no matter what the scrutiny is over the last couple of years. Now that he's got some experience behind him he can help other guys with things he's been through. That's what a leader does and that's all he can do. He continues to do it year in and year out and the bottom line is if we all play well and he plays well we will go where we need to go."
The entire NFL is in the process of figuring out quarterback market values. It's one thing for the established elite such as Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Drew Brees in New Orleans, Peyton Manning in Denver and Tom Brady in New England to command as much of a chunk of the salary cap pie as they do, but for players who are still working on climbing that ladder of success it's more complicated. Chicago signed Jay Cutler to a seven-year extension in January worth $126.7 million, including $38 million guaranteed. San Francisco signed Colin Kaepernick to a six-year extension worth $114 million but with its structure it is a team-friendly deal.
The bottom line is this is a deal that both sides that made both sides happy.
"Andy is being rewarded for his accomplishments with a significant contract," said Katie Blackburn, Bengals executive vice-president, "and we are pleased to have a deal in place that will make him a key part of our team for a number of years."
The deal allows the Bengals to continue to structure contracts with players it believes to be among its core for the coming seasons. They have already exercised the option of a fifth year on wide receiver A.J. Green -- their top pick in 2011 -- for the 2015 season. Last year, they signed defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap as well as punter Kevin Huber to long-term extensions. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is due to become a restricted free agent after this season but despite reports over the weekend that talks have bogged down between the two sides he is a high priority candidate for the Bengals to go after next in their dealings.
The Bengals open the preseason Thursday night in Kansas City against the Chiefs.
"It's stating the obvious that this is a key move for the ongoing success of our team," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, "I congratulate our front office, and Andy and his representatives, for coming together to make this happen in a constructive way for the football team. Andy is still a young player (26), he has led us to the playoffs three straight years, and by far we have not seen the best of him yet."