One week after the Bengals drafted LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the no. 1 pick, the team has released Andy Dalton. Cincinnati had been shopping Dalton around for much of the offseason, and declined to discuss just how much interest there had been for the 32-year-old QB. Thursday’s move makes clear that it wasn’t much. The NFL currently has a surplus of competent passers, and no organization was apparently willing to trade for Dalton at his costly price tag.
For the Bengals, Dalton’s cut removes $17.7 million from their 2020 salary cap. It also officially anoints Burrow as their Week 1 starter, despite initial talk of a QB competition after Burrow came off the board. Burrow, who completed 76.3 percent of his passes and threw for 60 touchdowns and only six interceptions during his transcendent final season on campus, takes over an offense that ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA in 2019. He’ll play alongside a receiving corps headlined by A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and 2020 second-round pick Tee Higgins.
The more intriguing question is what happens next for Dalton, and one landing spot sticks out as glaringly as the QB’s red hair: New England. The Patriots have less than $2 million in available cap space, and thus couldn’t afford to acquire Dalton via trade. The financial considerations are more feasible now that he’s on the open market. Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and Brian Lewerke are the only other quarterbacks on the New England roster at the moment, and the league’s rumor mill has linked the Pats to Dalton dating back to January. NBC’s Peter King reiterated his belief that a Dalton–New England pairing would make sense in late March.
Other teams that could target Dalton include Jacksonville, Washington, and Las Vegas. But each comes with its complications. Jacksonville and Washington will likely want to give extended looks to Gardner Minshew II and Dwayne Haskins, respectively, while Vegas signed Marcus Mariota to back up Derek Carr in March. Of course, Dalton has plenty of history with the Gruden family.
A dark-horse candidate here could be Pittsburgh, one of the Bengals’ AFC North rivals. The Steelers will enter this season with Ben Roethlisberger entrenched as the starter, but he just turned 38 and is coming off of a serious elbow injury. Roethlisberger has bristled when Pittsburgh has brought in backup QBs in the past, but the team’s great Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges experiment in 2019 didn’t go so well.
Dalton has started at least 13 games in eight of his nine NFL seasons, peaking in 2015 when he was an MVP candidate before getting injured. He joins a free-agent class that also includes Cam Newton and Joe Flacco.