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Chargers QB search: The Andy Dalton fallback plan

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San Diego Chargers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

So far this year I’ve been going through some options as to who the LA Chargers could target as their quarterback next season. This has included my write-up on Teddy Bridgewater (don’t do it), Tua Tagovailoa (don’t do it), the current QB situation for all 32 teams (LA’s not in a great position), and some potential destinations for Philip Rivers (including the Chargers).

Today I continue by looking at a quarterback who is not in the draft and not a free agent but is guaranteed to be supplanted from his starting job this year.

He is 32, a three-time Pro Bowler, and since 2011 has been to the playoffs twice as many times as Rivers has. He’s also one of the worst postseason quarterbacks in history and his team is picking first overall and replacing him with Joe Burrow for a reason. As you already know, he is Andy motherfucking Dalton.

Dalton signed a six-year, $96 million contract in 2014 and it is just about time to pay the piper, as he enters the final year of that contract, which pays him a base salary of $17.5 million with no bonus attached. That means that if the Cincinnati Bengals release Dalton, they’ll save his entire cap hit. If they trade him, same deal, and the acquiring team will get a league-average starting QB who ranks 16th in 2020 salary, before any new contracts come into play.

Basically, Dalton is getting paid exactly what he should be getting paid.

“But is Dalton really an average starting QB?” It’s a good question. Maybe I’m overestimating him. Let’s think about it and if LA should consider trading for him once either plan A goes to hell (Rivers? Tom Brady?) or if they’d prefer to have him as a veteran stopgap for a quarterback they draft in April.

Playing for the NFL’s worst team in 2019, Dalton started 13 games and completed 59.5% of his passes for 3,494 yards, 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 6.6 Y/A, and a passer rating of 78.3. He ranked 31st in QBR, which is decidedly not average. He ranked below Sam Darnold and Gardner Minshew and just ahead of Kyle Allen, Mason Rudolph, and last-place Dwayne Haskins. He was slightly better in DYAR and DVOA, but surely Dalton was a very bottom tier QB in 2019.

Are there adequate excuses for that?

Though the team went 2-11 with Dalton, we do know that he’s better than the player he was benched for, Ryan Finley. In three starts, Finley went 0-3 and posted a lower passer rating and QBR than Dalton. Surrounded by the same offensive line and weapons, Finley proved to be even much worse than one of the league’s worst statistical QBs.

The Bengals had a decent first option in Tyler Boyd (90 of 148 targets, 1,046 yards) but Boyd is not quite the dynamic WR1 that many teams have. That stands out even more when a proven WR1, A.J. Green, spends the season on the sidelines. Dalton’s second option was Auden Tate, a 22-year-old 7th round pick in 2018 who may have not seen the field for most NFL offenses. His third was the 27-year-old Alex Erickson, a former UDFA who was only on the team originally to be a punt and kick returner but ended up going from 53 targets in his first three seasons to 78 last year. He would next hit up Tyler Eifert and John Ross, two talented physical players who have underwhelmed due to injuries and inconsistencies at the pro level.

As to the offensive line, PFF ranked Cincinnati 30th, ahead of only the LA Rams and the Miami Dolphins. Many could successfully make an argument that Dalton is not good, but I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that any Bengals QB was setup for failure in 2019; I remember many people picking Cincinnati to be about .500 going into last year, but they did look like the league’s worst team to me and that’s less disputable now as they are set to give head coach Zac Taylor — not a fit for Dalton obviously — Burrow for the short and long-term future.

When was Dalton last good then? He wasn’t too bad in 2018!

In Marvin Lewis’s final season in Cincinnati, Dalton played in 11 games and completed 62% of his passes for 2,566 yards, 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 7 Y/A, and he ranked 17th in QBR. By most measures, I would say that Dalton proved to be a league-average QB and that’s where he’s been for most of his nine-year career.

He’s not special in any other regard than starting in the NFL for any person makes them pretty special. He’s just not special compared to Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, or Philip Rivers. He’s maybe not even special in the ways that Baker Mayfield is special, but Dalton could be better for a team than Mayfield is, depending on the team.

The Bengals went 5-6 with Dalton in 2018 compared to 1-4 with Jeff Driskel. He had Boyd, but he also had Green for nine games and the duo put up 9.5 and 9 yards per target respectively. The offensive line was bad, but not as bad. Overall, Dalton seems to be a quarterback who is good enough to help a really good team make the playoffs in the right situation, but also one who is 0-4 with one touchdown and six picks once he gets to the postseason.

He’s also potentially a cheap and adequate starter that a team could have for a day three draft pick or on the free agent market should Cincinnati not feel they’re getting decent enough trade offers.

I know that Andy Dalton is not good. I also know that as of today, the LA Chargers similarly have a bad offensive line. However, should they find that Rivers is gone and that all of the other veteran options they like go to other situations, I think Dalton is a worthy one-year bridge to the next player you build around and even lessens any desperation to take a QB early to some degree.

Dalton’s someone you can start in Week 1 and also someone you don’t feel bad about benching for a rookie in Week 4, so in that regard, given his likely affordable value, I would rank him above Bridgewater. It’s just a matter of comparing cost and value. He’s an okay value.