Andy Dalton signed with … the Cowboys? That was the initial reaction to Dallas’ somewhat surprising decision to add the veteran quarterback on Saturday, two days after his release from the Bengals last week.
From Dalton’s perspective, he’s accepting a pure backup role after starting for Cincinnati for nine seasons. From the Cowboys’ perspective, they just gave Dalton a one-year contract worth up to $7 million in incentives while they’re trying to figure out how to sign franchise-tagged Dak Prescott to a long-term deal.
The idea that the Cowboys signed Dalton just in case things don’t work out to keep Prescott in Dallas is the worst way to look at it. Here are some of the more logical reasons behind the move.
The Cowboys had money to spend to improve a shaky backup situation
Dallas once believed in the promise of undrafted Cooper Rush, but with offensive-minded Mike McCarthy taking over as head coach, there was bound to be some change on the depth chart behind Prescott. The first indication was the Cowboys drafting developmental QB Ben DiNucci in the seventh round, whose skill set was reminiscent of what McCarthy had behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
But the winner of a battle between Rush and DiNucci wouldn’t have put anyone at ease should something happen to Prescott. Enter Dalton, who is well versed in multiple offenses having had five coordinators during his time in the NFL. He played for both Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson early in his career, which will help as the Cowboys mesh McCarthy’s West Coast concepts with returning coordinator Kellen Moore’s successful Air Coryell.
The Cowboys had around $10 million left under the cap after factoring in Prescott’s $31.5 million cap number under the tag. They really had no more positional targets in free agency, so it made sense Jerry Jones would invest in Dalton when he became one of the best free agents left.
Andy Dalton is content being a No. 2 instead of fighting to be a bridge No. 1
Dalton could have had a reunion with Gruden in Jacksonville. He could have been an option for New England. But in both cases, he would still have needed to compete with a second-year Day 3 pick — either Gardner Minshew or Jarrett Stidham — instead of being handed another starting gig.
The Jaguars’ roster suggests they will be one of the worst AFC teams in a rebuilding year. The Patriots might be in for a dramatic fall from AFC East superiority without Tom Brady and with a retooled defense.
With the Cowboys, Dalton lands with a team that will be a NFC playoff contender, already representing a huge organizational upgrade from the Bengals. The other two teams, in their current states do not.
Dalton has made plenty of good money over his career after being taken in the second round in 2011. He has had a good consistent run as starter that few quarterbacks ever enjoy in the league. After years of playoff disappointments in Cincinnati, the only thing left for his career was a shot at a ring. He gets that in Dallas.
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Dalton is highly intelligent and adaptable quarterback, something for which he didn’t get enough credit with constant philosophical changes in Cincinnati. When he had the right supporting personnel in the receiving corps, running game and offensive line, he executed efficiently.
There are things he will totally get from Moore’s scheming, and things that are old hat for him in McCarthy’s system. Rush and DiNucci have nowhere near the same kind of experience and pro passing acumen. The Bengals could have possibly used him as a sounding board for rookie Joe Burrow. Instead, Dalton, like that one-time redheaded backup turned offensive coordinator Jason Garrett in Dallas, can serve as an extra coach with Moore, McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier.
Andy Dalton gets his Texas homecoming near his old college stomping grounds
Dalton became a prized NFL prospect with his productive and all-time winning ways at TCU, He was a four-year starter when Gary Patterson’s program was on the rise, leading the Horned Frogs to both the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl, winning the latter for a perfect 13-0 season in 2010.
Dalton hails from Katy, Texas, about a half-hour west of Houston. TCU is situated in Fort Worth, 20 minutes west of the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington. While in college, Dalton met his wife Jordan, with whom he was very active in the Cincinnati community. She hails from Richardson, a suburb of Dallas.
There’s no doubt neither Florida nor Massachusetts could provide the same homely feel away from their long time in Ohio than a professional return to Texas.
The Cowboys wanted to make Dak Prescott even better, not replace him
The Cowboys didn’t “diss” Prescott at all in making this move, contrary to popular false belief. They wanted someone whose brain he could better pick as he continues to evolve into an elite QB in his fifth season.
There’s a sense to pair rookies with seasoned backups. But in making the transition from demoted starter, it’s easier for a QB such as Dalton to work with a more well-established starter elsewhere, where there is no lingering resentment and only a focus on collaborating for the common goal of creating the best possible offense.
Dalton can be a more effective No. 2 to Prescott than he would have been for Burrow. Dalton gets his fresh start, while both the Cowboys and Prescott get a fresh perspective when they need it the most for playing under McCarthy.