Despite the complaints of a small (but vocal) minority of fans, Andy Dalton will undoubtedly be the starting quarterback in 2013. The coaching staff knows that he has to improve his level of play, as evidenced by recent comments from Jay Gruden, but they are also committed to giving him every opportunity to take that next step forward. Even if they weren’t, where are they going to go with this year’s crop of QBs?
While the starting QB position is locked, the guy who will back him up is far from it.
Bruce Gradkowski has been the chief clipboard-holder for Andy’s two years with the Bengals. Numerous articles have been written over that time about the teaching, coaching and moral support that Bruce has given to Andy as he entered the league with a minimal off-season to prepare for one of the biggest stages in all of sports. We don’t often think about what kind of a quality guy it takes to help someone who is standing in the way of doing the job he would like to be doing himself. Bruce has done that for two years in Cincinnati. Plus, he has something ideal in a backup QB: the demonstrated ability to take over when called upon and do a decent job of running the team. Of course he is a step back; every backup QB is. But sending him into the huddle does not have the same white-flag-of-surrender feel that sending out Jordan Palmer had. So if the Bengals can bring him back at $1.8M/year again, it wouldn’t be the worst move they make this spring.
If the Bengals decide to seek someone else to fill the role, Tarvaris Jackson could be an ideal candidate. He is another guy with plenty of starting experience, and he should be more of a viable threat than Gradkowski to push Andy Dalton during camp. More realistically, though, he would lessen the drop-off if Dalton were to sustain an injury. He may demand a bit more money than Gradkowski, but he bring more to the table as well. It all depends on how much insurance the front office wants to buy.
Other interesting free agent options include Matt Moore and David Garrard. Both are close enough to starting caliber that they may prefer to find a team where they have a legitimate chance to win the starting job. That is not likely to happen here. But if the Bengals were able to land one of these guys (ie teams are too afraid of Garrard’s injury history), they could be useful in developing some gadget/confusion plays. Both have big enough arms to drop a mean deep ball if called upon to do so.
However, my gut tells me that free agency is not how the team will look to address this spot. An uneasy feeling tells me that a developmental 5th/6th round pick is going to spar with Zac Robinson for the job.
It feels like a completely wasted pick, too.
Sift through the names of the developmental QB picks that the Bengals have taken in the recent past. Tyler Hansen. Zac Robinson. Jordan Palmer. Jeff Rowe. None of these names are at all inspiring. None of them are someone we would feel having one James Harrison lead-with-the-helmet play away from taking over the season. Yet, with numerous large contracts needing to be ironed out this year and next year, the Bengalized part of me sees the team trying to save $1M by going to someone completely inexperienced to be the chief clipboard-holder.
The times when the backup QB position has been the most secure has been when they have guys like Gradkowski and Jon Kitna who had spent time under center on other teams. It allows them to keep only two QBs, opening an extra roster spot for a position that needs a little more depth. It is not my preference, but I think the team will part ways with that strategy this year.