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Why should teams be interested in Bengals QB Andy Dalton?

If Andy Dalton wasn’t the right man for the job for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019, why does the NFL rumor mill suggest that the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears believe him to be their man for 2020? Could Dalton ever be poised to become this year’s Ryan Tannehill?

Here, we examine the highs and lows of Dalton's career and explain why there seems to be a serious market for his services.

[Editor's note: Available to all of PFF's EDGE and ELITE subscribers, PFF's Free Agent Rankings Page consists of three-year grades, PFF WAR and in-depth analysis for all of the top NFL free agents. Contract information from our friends at Over The Cap is also available.]

Dalton has a history of winning

Before he arrived in Cincinnati with the 35th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Andy Dalton had won 42 of his 49 games as a four-year starter at TCU. He passed Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh to become the school’s all-time winningest quarterback, and the Horned Frogs also claimed victory in three of their four bowl games under Dalton's leadership.

Dalton became an immediate, Day 1 starter as a rookie and went on to win 50 of his 77 games during his first five seasons in the NFL. He also led the Bengals to five straight playoff appearances, though a Week 14 injury caused him to miss the 2015 postseason and forced backup A.J. McCarron to pick up from Dalton's excellent start.

Andy Dalton: PFF overall grades and rank from 2011-2015
Season PFF overall grade Rank among QBs
2011 62.2 24/38
2012 63.7 26/39
2013 70.6 18/43
2014 66.5 21/39
2015 81.7 8/40

Dalton earned top-25 PFF overall grades in four of his first five single seasons from 2011-15. Altogether, his five-year PFF passing grade of 73.8 ranked 20th among the 41 quarterbacks who dropped back to pass at least 1,000 times over that span.

His 161 big-time throws (PFF's highest-graded throws) and 5.7% big-time throw percentage were both the 12th-best figure among the same group of players, while his 7.1 yards per attempt, 72.5% adjusted completion percentage and 384 completions from passes that traveled 10 or more yards downfield respectively ranked 19th, 17th and 15th among the 36 signal-callers who threw at least 1,000 passes.

Coached to distribute the ball quickly and accurately, Dalton’s average time to throw of 2.50 seconds ranked as the fourth-fastest time during those first five seasons (including the postseason), and only Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck and Tom Brady got the ball out quicker.

Andy Dalton: Performance from a clean pocket (2011-2015, postseason included, min. 500 pass attempts)
Stat Andy Dalton NFL average (2011-15) Dalton's rank
Yards per attempt 7.3 7.7 30/43
Adjusted completion % 75.4% 75.8% 21/43
Passer rating 93.6 98.1 24/43
Big-time throw % 5.5% 5.0% 11/43
Turnover-worthy play % 3.4% 3.0% 30/43
PFF passing grade 84.1 22/43

As a result, the Bengals signal-caller faced pressure on only 24.4% of his total dropbacks over those five years, the third-lowest rate in that span, and he proceeded to generate top-25 marks among quarterbacks in passer rating from a clean pocket, clean-pocket adjusted completion percentage, clean-pocket big-time throw percentage and clean-pocket PFF passing grade. 

Dalton also proved his overall athleticism by generating a first down on 41.7% of his 36 designed run plays while averaging 4.6 yards per designed rush attempt. He also made the most of his scrambles from the pocket by averaging 5.4 yards per carry on scrambles while converting 28.7% of those scrambles into either a first down or touchdown.

This goes to show that, if he's placed in the correct situation with the correct supporting cast, Dalton is capable of, at worst, average quarterback play, which is a standard of play that a handful of teams need right now, especially if those teams (like the Patriots, for example) are set to lose their starting quarterbacks in free agency.

Dalton's period of decline

Dalton produced a subpar record of 20-35-1 over the last 86 games from 2016-19, and after leading his Bengals offense to 0.007 EPA per pass play during his first five seasons, that figure declined to just -0.005 per pass play over his last four. However, Dalton’s four-year decline can be tied directly to the Bengals' inability to protect the quarterback.

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