Talks of contract extension linger but Dalton’s focus is on field

For how long will Andy Dalton continue to trot out of the tunnel as the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback?

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton isn’t the shy type. The Bengals quarterback isn’t necessarily the most loquacious of speakers but don’t mistake that for him being shy.

The microscope was focused squarely on Dalton last year. It’ll be even more so this year. Dalton and the Bengals have had three straight winning seasons and three straight playoff appearances but their inability to go beyond those accomplishments subjugates Dalton and the organization to questions now that can’t truthfully be answered until January.

For a good 20 minutes on Monday, though, Dalton answered the questions he knew were coming. The Bengals began their offseason workout program on Monday. This is a team that is coming off a division championship and, while it lost two key players in defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins in free agency, maintains its core personnel. Dalton is at the heart of that core.

His good play has outweighed the poor overall, with the glaring exception of the postseason.

That’s a mighty glare. Especially when it’s a contract year.

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The Bengals and Dalton’s representatives are talking contract extension. Both sides say they would like to get something done sooner than later. Dalton reiterated so numerous times Monday. He also said it’s not at the forefront of his concerns.

Dalton is thinking more about correcting the mistakes of Jan. 5 against San Diego, most notably the three turnovers he committed on three consecutive drives in the second half of the 27-10 loss in the AFC wild card game to the Chargers. The Bengals had done exactly what they wanted to do in the regular season, earning themselves a home playoff game. Then they let all that hard work go to waste in the matter of 30 minutes.

"I’ve watched (the game) several times. We had chances in the game. Obviously the turnovers killed us. I wish I would have done some things differently in the game," said Dalton. "You have to understand having the ball in your possession you have to take pride in that. You don’t want to give the other team a chance to have it more. Protecting the ball is going to be big. It’s going to be a big emphasis for me, a big emphasis for this offense. If you are holding the ball you have a better chance of winning the game."

Whether or not Dalton is the quarterback for the Bengals not just in the now but in the future is a question bantered about outside the organization. Inside the organization, there is solidarity in Dalton. It’s come from owner Mike Brown. Head coach Marvin Lewis has said so. First-year offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is adamant about Dalton.

Dalton said he’s been told by those that matter most that should the Bengals take a quarterback in next month’s draft, it won’t be with the thought of replacing him.

"I’m very confident in what I’ve done," said Dalton. "The people who are the critics, they look at all of the negatives. They don’t look at all of the stuff that I’ve accomplished. They don’t look at that I’m one of three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to do certain things. They don’t look at that kind of stuff. They want to find ways to tear me down but I’m not worried about that.

"They can say whatever they want. All that matters is what everyone believes in this organization and what I believe in myself. That’s how I go about my business."

Dalton’s business is going to have to be better in 2014. He threw for more yards and for more touchdowns last season than any Cincinnati quarterback has ever thrown for in a single season. He’s never missed a start in his career. Only Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Dalton have thrown for 3,000 or more yards in each of their first three seasons.

Dalton is aware that none of that is enough for him or anyone else in the organization.

"This is a big year," he said. "I’ve been through it three times now. I’ve played well. I’ve been to the playoffs. Obviously the playoffs haven’t gone well for us but it’s not just me. There’s a lot of guys that are here, a lot of guys that we’ve had a taste of what could be and now it’s time to really go take advantage of it. I’m not only one who thinks that. It’s not just me here that believes that, who thinks that and who has been through it all.

"Obviously, being the quarterback I’m the one who will get talked about a lot but there is a lot of guys who want to accomplish a lot more than what we’ve done. That’s what we need to have on this team."