July 30, 2014

Focus On: Quarterbacks

There will be plenty of angst from certain quadrants of Bengals Nation in regards to Andy Dalton over the next 6 months. The pessimists among us are plentiful and proud. But are they right?

Will certain fans try to sack Dalton during the off-season?

Andy Dalton: signed through 2014
2012 was a mixed bag for Andy Dalton. He improved in most important stats: TDs thrown (+7), yds thrown (+271), completion % (+4.2), and QB rating (+7.0) among them. But he also increased in picks (+3) and in sacks (+22), many of which resulted from either scrambling too soon or holding the ball too long.

Cue the hand-wringing.

Let’s be honest. On one hand, any derivative of the word “regress” is just wrong. Most of his stats improved from last year. We might not have seen as much progress as we had hoped, but he didn’t get worse. On the other hand, he made some bad decisions with the ball–particularly in December–and struggled at times with accuracy, particularly when going deep down field. He grew in many areas but not all. And that is n-o-r-m-a-l for QBs in their second season.

Take a look at the second year stats for Matt Ryan, who is poised to break into the “elite QB” conversation. You’ll see a mixed bag. Same goes for Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in their second full seasons. Or look at Joe Flacco (a closer comparison for Dalton in terms of ceiling IMO… both may be top 10 QBs one day but I don’t see either being a top 5 guy) in his second season, and you’ll see numbers very similar to Dalton last year.

The bottom line is this: Don’t panic. The second season just isn’t a good gauge for a QBs career path. If we do not see a clear step forward in his third season, then we will be having a very different conversation next year (against a loud chorus of “I old you so” from Pessimism Inc.) about what to do at QB. But we are not there yet. Andy deserves another year of development. Besides, there is squat among free agent QBs and the team is not going to draft another QB in the high rounds this year, so all of the consternation won’t change one thing anyway.

Bruce Gradkowski: unrestricted free agent
For the sake of Dalton’s continued development, I would like to see the Bengals keep Gradkowski for another year or two. As Andy comes into his own over the next couple years, having a familiar, experienced support structure behind him will still be important as he gains confidence. Rather than making Dalton the veteran at the position in his third year, let Grad be the old man of the group a little longer. He is serviceable if needed for a short run, and he allows the team to carry just two QBs and carry an extra man elsewhere if they choose. He won’t exactly be in high demand, so he price should stay under $2M/yr, which is certainly affordable.

Zac Robinson: signed through 2014
The Bengals like Zac well enough to keep him on the practice squad for two years. With his eligibility for the PS expired, they have to either put him on the team or release him. To stay on, his job this off-season is to prove to the coaches that he can perform at least equal to Gradkowski, saving them money if they choose him and let Grad go.

Free Agent Wish List
Talk about a thin crop! You might get an upgrade in backups by bringing in Tarvaris Jackson, but I feel sorry for any team sorting through this list in search of a starter. The best option on the list is Matt Moore, a completely unknown quantity. After that, they’re left picking through names like Rex Grossman, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Jordan Palmer… Ugh.

Draft Options
I’ll fall out of my chair if the war room goes for a QB before the fifth round. By that point, he’s pretty much just a guy to keep Robinson honest with a little competition. For a late pick, as a Big10 guy, I’d take Matt McGloin of Penn State late in the sixth to serve in that role. To lead Penn State to a good year after the catastrophic off-season they had, the kid has to have a little something as a leader.