It's All on Andy ... and Hue
CINCINNATI — We can debate the merits of the Andy Dalton contract, and this week in this excitable football town people will. But this is the most important factoid to take away from the contract: There is a very, very small chance the Bengals will cut Dalton in the first three years of the contract, because it’s so team-friendly; if Dalton doesn’t win a playoff game in the first two years of the deal, the value of the contract is three years, $35.5 million, according to Pro Football Talk. It’s more if he starts to win playoff games, which it should be. But $12 million a year for a quarterback who won 30 games in his first three seasons? That’s pretty manageable.
I wrote about the signing Monday when, serendipitously, The MMQB training-camp tour rolled into Bengals camp. But now, let’s look ahead.
In particular, let’s look at what the signing means for the Cincinnati offense, and for new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
This is the big complaint I’ve heard from Bengals insiders about the offense since Dalton took the rein. Five years ago, the Bengals ran on half of their snaps (505 of 1,011), a number Marvin Lewis likes. Since then, the percentage has fallen. In Dalton’s three years (30 wins, 18 losses), Cincinnati has not run as much as 45 percent in any of the seasons. It’s one thing if you have a ball-control quarterback like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, or, last year, Philip Rivers or Russell Wilson. But the Bengals have to shorten the game, particularly with an able offensive line lead by stalwart tackle Andrew Whitworth and rising guard Kevin Zeitler. The way to do that is to get closer to 50-percent runs, which is what the offensive staff is aiming to do.
That brings us to Dalton. And to Jackson.
The Bengals presented a united front Monday in the wake of Dalton’s new six-year contract, which is worth $96 million without incentives, and $115 million if he maxes out the incentives. We got the message: Cincinnati coaches, ownership and players all love Dalton and never thought of doing without him. Owner Mike Brown told me it wasn’t difficult to understand; he thinks Dalton’s a very good player, and he and daughter Katie Blackburn, the club negotiator, knew that to keep him they’d have to pay something near the going rate for him. True. But the contract speaks volumes. In the first three years, he’s paid like a middle-class quarterback, at best. If he comes through, he stays. If not, the Bengals can cut their losses and draft another quarterback in 2017. This buys them time to see if Dalton can respond to pressure better than he has (physical pressure, not mental pressure). His response to pressure against San Diego in the playoff loss last season was awful; he blew the game in the second half with some horrible throws with the blitz bearing down on him.
So now it’s up to Jackson to max out Dalton’s potential. It’s a pretty good opportunity for both men. Dalton needs to shut up Cincinnatians who view him as a choker. Jackson needs to win with Dalton in the playoffs, which will advance his mission to get another shot to be a head coach after his alternately successful and controversial short reign as Raiders head coach.
“What I've tried to do," Jackson said on the practice field after the late-afternoon practice Monday, “is change the mindset a little bit. I think he understands that now, playing quarterback, every defensive coordinator is trying to defeat you. They're not trying to defeat the offensive football team—they're coming after you. He saw it last year. That's my job, to have him understand defenses are now about defeating the other guys; it's about hitting the quarterback from the time he hits the stadium to the time he leaves. He has to welcome that challenge.
“We truly believe in him. But he has to change the perception of him by the way he plays. On the field—that’s the only way he changes it. There's no other way to change that perception. It's not going to be because he says something magical or I say something magical. It's all about winning. You gotta play and get it done. That’s the reality of life in the NFL.”
See why Jackson’s the right guy to try to take Dalton to the next level? He’s going to tell him the reality of what he faces. Marvin Lewis can say the playoff foibles are his fault, or 46 players’ fault in unison. No one’s buying it. Great quarterbacks win in January. And the Bengals are in a division with the traditionally dominant teams reloading. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are contenders, but no more so than Cincinnati. This is the golden opportunity for the Bengals, over the next two seasons, while the rest of the division matures. But it’s up to Dalton, the player under the most pressure of any quarterback in the league this year. If he wins, the Bengals win. And Jackson wins.
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Editor's note: This column had planned to be about some of the teams not covered extensively in the Monday column. My apologies. News happened. I will have Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Jacksonville dispatches in my Monday column next week.
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HE SAYS I BLEW THE STORY ON CAM NEWTON. The title of Monday's column should be called ‘The Maturation of Peter.’ This is just another example of a reporter trying to become an entertainer/icon and make news instead of report on it. This is only a story because you made it into one. While many of the others in his draft class have had brushes with the law or just fizzled out Cam has been nothing short of endearing to the city of Charlotte and its youth. Oh and he has been, statistically, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game when taking into account the first three years.
Pablo, this was an example of a reporter/columnist trying to explain an inside story about our profession and a player who was man enough to talk to a foe instead of just continuing to ignore him.
CAM SHOULD NOT HAVE A BEEF WITH ME. Thanks for taking the time to relate your recent conversation with Cam Newton. I always enjoy the MMQB column, especially these "behind the scenes" stories. Regarding Cam's reaction to what you tweeted/printed three years ago, I'm not sure I understand his objections. While I don't always agree with your view (part of what makes your columns interesting), in this instance it seems to me: 1) Cam made the statement; 2) You printed it; 3) It was not out of context; 4) At no point have I seen anything that suggests Cam retracted the statement. In fact, it appears to me that he is indeed trying to fulfill the ‘entertainer and icon’ roles, and effectively. The NFL is, at its core, entertainment. As for icon, filling a community and role-model is part of being an "icon." His reaction to your reporting (imagine that!) seems disproportionate. While I agree with you that him coming to you to "let bygones be bygones" shows his maturity, I question whether there were "bygones" in the first place. At any rate, all's well that ends well.
I understand why he was upset, and why those close to him were. Was I right? Was he right? I think you could make an argument for either side, but I do think quoting a man correctly should never be a black mark against a journalist, nor should it be a black mark for a columnist to say how it might affect his draft standing.
ON OLBERMANN. I appreciate your thoughts on what you felt Roger Goodell should have said regarding Ray Rice. But I would also have loved to hear your thoughts on Keith Olbermann's call for Goodell to resign. Isn't it time for these type of media members to stop making these grand declarations that contribute nothing to the overall discussion about such an important issue like domestic violence and instead change the discussion to these nonsensical comments?
Mike, I think it’s over-reaching to say Goodell should resign over his Rice sanction, but opinions are what makes the TV world go 'round. Didn’t really think too much about Keith Olbermann’s strident opinion. Those kinds of opinions are good. They make people think.
INTERESTING QUESTION FROM ISRAEL. If one unit on a team (defense or offense) is much better than the other, does this help or hurt the other unit when they practice? I'm thinking specifically about the Rex Ryan Jets with their superior defense, but it could be a lot of teams. If the defense is dominating the offense in practice, does this help the offense to raise its game, or does it discourage the offense? Or no effect? As always, thanks for the great reads. This week, I particularly liked the bit on Jordan Gross.
—Baruch Gitlin, Beit Shemesh, Israel
Thanks a lot for writing from Israel, Baruch. Good question. Your point is that maybe the defense overwhelms the offense in Jets practice sometimes. But I find when an offense—for example—has to face a very good defense every day in practice, it becomes a sort of iron-sharpens-iron situation. The NFC East in the eighties and early nineties became so strong because they had to beat each other up so much during the regular season, and when those teams got to the playoffs, I think they found the sledding a little easier than what they’d faced during the season. So I think it’s good that Geno Smith has to make throws against a smart, aggressive scheme. He’ll then be ready for the smart aggressive schemes he faces during the year.
THE MMQB MIGHT HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM, HE THINKS. Peter, I know that this may be an unpopular opinion, but the reaction that your team had to not being able to get alcohol for one day is kind of pathetic. I drink myself, so I am not some anti-alcohol nut trying to berate you. I also have made many long drives (13 hours-plus at times with kids that were not always entertained by the trip) and can understand the desire for something relaxing at the end of a trip, but to feature the need for alcohol your driving team has as the number one item in your travel notes does not reflect well upon your column. Maybe you could have cut down on your 9,200 word column without that bit. I'll still read it, and still enjoy it, and skip over your beernerdness and coffeenerdness like I always do. Thanks for all the great reading over the years!’
Mike, all I try to do in these columns is to be a little human. And if the driver who has had to be a tee-totaler for a few days while the rest of us get to have a beer in RV while we’re driving from place to place … I don’t know. I think you might be overreacting to a human thing about a few guys looking forward to a beer at the end of a long day and being stunned than there are places in America that don’t trust adults to be able to have a drink on Sundays.
WE ARE NOT A MUSICAL BANDWAGON. I liked reading the note about all of the music being played at NFL practices but it made me think - who is controlling the tunes on the MMQB Tour Bus? Aside from a steady diet of Springsteen, who are the most popular artists?
We don’t have a sound system on the RV, Christian. And we usually use the time on the road to either write (I have my QC-20 Bose earbud-type headphones quite often while I write, listening to my eclectic mix, from Taylor Swift to U2 to the Beatles to Linkin Park to Rilo Kiley) or have long conversations about life.