Andy Dalton is a playoff quarterback.
In his three years with the Cincinnati Bengals he's proven to be an efficient quarterback and has navigated his team to three straight playoff appearances, including a division title last year. But that's about it.
That's far from a bad thing, especially for a Bengals team that had made the playoffs only twice in the last two decades before Dalton's arrival. But now's the time Cincinnati has to decide if they're content no longer being the punch line to jokes as they were for so many years in the 90s and early 2000s, or if they want to strive for something more and fight for a Super Bowl.
Dalton's new contract – a six-year, $115 million deal that essentially works out to a pay as you go pact – will let the Bengals determine each year if they're happy, or ready for a change.
If the Bengals feel with Dalton they can continue to grow and one day match up well with the heavyweights of the AFC, and there's some evidence to support that, then it'd be wise to keep Dalton for the duration of his new deal rather than start from scratch at the position.
After leading Cincinnati to a 9-7 record in his rookie campaign in 2011, Dalton has helped Cincy increase their win total each year. The former second round pick from TCU has also increased his passing yards and touchdown totals each year as well.
And Dalton has the backing of his teammates as well, including the highest profile ones.
"That's my guy," star receicer A.J. Green said of Dalton to CBS in the off-season. "He helped me where I am. I helped him and we took the Bengals to a different level. The Bengals were losing a lot before we came. I feel like we turned it around. I know they know he's the guy.”
And yet every year come playoff time the Bengals are all but ignored. In Dalton's first playoff game, Cincy fell 31-10 to the Houston Texans. He followed that up with a 19-13 loss to the Texans in 2012 and last year the Bengals were dropped 27-10 by the San Diego Chargers.
And Dalton's performances in those games left a lot to be desired. While his post-season passing yards average is on par with his regular season numbers, his accuracy is four points lower and he threw his first playoff touchdown just last year, although the impact was mitigated with his fifth and sixth post-season interceptions coming in the same game.
The Bengals have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but Dalton – a capable game manager – may be holding them back from truly contending. He's proven he can get them in the dance, so starting anew at QB would surely set the Bengals back, but it may be a necessary move for long-term success, if they feel the supporting cast can win a Super Bowl with the right guy under centre.
With Dalton's and middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict's contract out of the way, the next Bengal to possibly get a big time money extensions is Dalton's favourite target and consistent 1,000-yard receiver A.J. Green.
An area of concern for the Bengals heading into the season could be their offensive line. The team lost left Anthony Collins in free agency, didn't bring back centre Kyle Cook, and will move move Andrew Whitworth to the left side to replace Collins.
The Bengals stayed away from the annual free agent bidding wars but landed some decent depth pieces, headlined by solid if not spectacular backup quarterback Jason Campbell.
Cincinnati addressed an aging secondary with their first round pick Darqueze Dennard, who was a bit of a steal at 24th overall. They added another running back to their rotation in second rounder Jeremy Hill and a famous third-string quarterback in Alabama's AJ McCarron in the fifth round.