CINCINNATI -- A decision about the future of the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback situation will be looming over the franchise this offseason.
With four games left in the regular season, the Bengals are 1-11 and have the best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. If they draft a quarterback as expected, Cincinnati likely will have to figure out what to do with veteran Andy Dalton. The 32-year-old has been the Bengals' primary quarterback since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft.
Here's a look at where things stand with Dalton and the future of the position in Cincinnati.
What is Dalton's contract situation?
In 2014, Dalton signed a team-friendly extension that runs through the 2020 season. He is set to make $17.5 million in base salary with a $200,000 workout bonus in 2020. However, Dalton had no guaranteed money remaining on his six-year deal, meaning the Bengals could move on from him without taking a salary cap hit. The Bengals declined to give Dalton an extension this offseason, as owner Mike Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer he wanted to see what Dalton could accomplish in 2019.
Why keep Dalton?
Dalton hasn't been the primary reason for the Bengals' dismal season. Even when he was benched for three games, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the decision had more to do with evaluating rookie Ryan Finley than Dalton's play.
If Dalton has the right pieces around him and plays as well as he did in the Bengals' Week 13 win over the Jets, he could soften the transition to Cincinnati's quarterback of the future. Baltimore and Kansas City both used that setup before going to Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, two of the NFL's top quarterbacks.
With the right pieces around him, Dalton has shown the ability to be very successful. And during the first eight games of the season, he was tied for fourth in the NFL with six completions of 30 yards or more into tight windows, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data. Dalton's leadership is also a major asset that should be taken into consideration.
Why move on from Dalton?
Acquiring an additional draft pick and salary cap space in a trade of Dalton could outweigh the benefits of keeping him in 2020. Even if they kept him to be the starter, it will be a short-term situation, especially if the Bengals draft a quarterback with the top overall pick.
And while Dalton can still be a capable starter, he has struggled overall this season. His expected completion percentage is -3 percent, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Dalton and New England's Tom Brady are tied for the fourth-lowest percentage among quarterbacks with a minimum of 200 attempts.
Is it worth moving Dalton before next season?
If the Bengals know they don't want Dalton starting in 2020, a trade is in the best interest of both parties. When Dalton was benched after eight games, he made it clear he wanted to be a starter next season, in Cincinnati or elsewhere. Dalton would account for $17.7 million on their cap if the Bengals decide to keep him. For a franchise that should be in rebuilding mode after a historically bad season, the most logical decision is to move Dalton and acquire draft capital instead of letting him go for nothing.
What could the Bengals expect to get in return for Dalton?
If Dalton looks as good as he did in his return to the starting lineup, a few teams should be interested in acquiring him in 2020. Transactions in recent years involving similar quarterbacks suggest the Bengals could receive a third- or fourth-round pick. In 2018, Washington dealt a third-round pick and a player for Alex Smith. In 2019, Denver shipped a fourth-round pick to Baltimore for Joe Flacco. Like Dalton, Smith and Flacco are veterans and both have comparable numbers. But Dalton is younger than both and could be effective for a longer period of time, which might command a better pick.
What happens with rookie quarterback Ryan Finley?
The 2019 fourth-round pick started three games before the Bengals decided to go back to Dalton, a decision that led to Cincinnati's first win of the season Sunday. However, it would be a surprise if Finley wasn't around next season. The Bengals' coaching staff still has a lot of praise for Finley, who struggled with his accuracy and timing as a starter. However, those mistakes have been chalked up to inexperience. If the Bengals draft a quarterback with their first pick and move Dalton, Cincinnati will still need a backup. That seems the most likely scenario and gives Finley more time to develop.
Will the final four games make a big impact on the 2020 draft process?
Probably not. The Bengals benched Dalton and Finley, which doesn't bode well for the long-term outlook at the position. Duke Tobin, the Bengals' director of player personnel and de facto general manager, has been spotted evaluating some of the top college quarterbacks around the country. If Cincinnati has the ability to take the No. 1 quarterback on its draft board, any other outcome will be a massive upset.
Which QBs should be in the running for the No. 1 overall pick?
There is only one answer that appears to make sense: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. A vocal chunk of the Bengals' fan base is clamoring for the Bengals to select the Ohio native with the top overall pick in the 2020 draft. Burrow is on the verge of locking up the Heisman Trophy after an incredible senior season. He has a 94.3 Total QBR against Power Five teams, the best rating in the country.
During the regular season, Burrow completed 78.3 percent of his passes for 4,366 yards, 44 touchdowns and six interceptions. At Alabama, Burrow had arguably the best game of the season. He threw for 393 yards, three touchdowns and had a QBR of 97.1 in a victory over quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide.