For Cincinnati Bengals fans, the 2013 NFL season won’t start for many more months. But for Bengals players, the season should have already started. Professional football players may only be paid part of their salaries 16 times during the calendar year, but don’t mistake interval payments for a part-time job. There is nothing part-time about playing football at the top level and it takes a 12 month commitment to play in this league. The Bengals season officially ended after the wildcard round loss to the Houston Texans back on the fifth of January. Now some players will take months off after that loss, others will immediately get back to work. Most will take a week or two off, while those fortunate enough to be invited will holiday at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
Andy Dalton didn’t make the Pro Bowl, so Bengals fans best be hoping that he has already spent a week or two preparing for next season. Statistically, Dalton has been golden since being drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, but his performances haven’t matched. Dalton has completed over 60 percent of his passes over his first two seasons, with over 7,000 yards, 47 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. He also has over 270 yards rushing for five touchdowns and eight fumbles(six lost).
The issue with Dalton is not his production per se, but instead it is his performance. Making the first round of the playoffs twice and being a part of a team that won 19 of a possible 32 regular season games is an acceptable goal for many players and fans of football, but it shouldn’t be enough to keep your job for an extended period of time. Especially not if you are not a protagonist for what is good.
For the most part, Dalton has been a complementary piece for the Bengals. He has done enough to get by with some talented receiving options, a very strong offensive line and an offensive coordinator who is committed to running the ball often. Dalton doesn’t make his teammates better, he simply does enough to not take away too much from their combined impact. Of course, that is fine for a quarterback who has only been in the league for two years. In fact, it is pretty impressive on it’s own.
What’s not impressive is Dalton’s lack of development. He was expected to improve in his second year. He needed to show better command of the pocket, consistently carry the offense when needed to, help guide a younger receiving corps and show off better deep passing. Dalton didn’t do that. There was very little difference between Dalton’s rookie season and his second year. His production increased because they had a better running game, stronger offensive line and AJ Green developed into an elite wide receiver.
At 25 years of age, it’s way too early to panic with Dalton, but his if his third season doesn’t show more promise, then the Bengals could be looking to move on. The Bengals have a good all-around team, arguably one of the most balanced in the whole league. With Dalton at quarterback, however, they are a team that doesn’t look like ever winning the Super Bowl, the fans’ ultimate goal. To win it all with Dalton in his current creation, the Bengals would need every aspect of their team surrounding him to improve. If they found a better signal-caller to move forward with, then that player would elevate his teammates on both sides of the ball with his play. No longer would Dalton be carried to the first round of the playoffs to go no further. Instead, the Bengals would have to be considered a force in the AFC.
Dalton is a decent quarterback as things currently stand. Decent isn’t a problem if you want to enjoy a long NFL career, but if you want to win a Super Bowl or at least consistently challenge late in the season, then you need better than decent under center on every snap.
Fortunately for Dalton, quarterbacks are typically given three years to fully develop. He is certainly running out of time however. He only needs to look at Mark Sanchez in New York to see how quickly things can turn south.