Andy Dalton growing into role as father of two, elder statesman on Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton is almost 10 years older than new teammate Joe Mixon, but don’t call Dalton a father figure in the locker room just yet.

Sure, you can wish Dalton a Happy Father’s Day. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and his wife, Jordan, brought their second son, Nash, into the world in March. Nash’s brother, Noah, is almost 3 years old.

But father figure on the Bengals might be a bit much.

“He’s 20 and I turn 30 this year,” Dalton joked about Mixon. “I’m only 10 years older than you, bud.”

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It’s true that, in terms of age, Dalton is more big brother than father figure to his younger teammates, but the convergence of his seniority in the locker room, which was punctuated by the departure of longtime captain Andrew Whitworth, and Dalton's growing responsibilities off the field don’t seem to be mutually exclusive. He has a bigger role, on and off the field.

Dalton said becoming a father hasn’t necessarily changed how he leads the team, but it has given him a unique perspective on the opportunity.

“I think you realize the opportunities that we have and how special it is, that my kids are going to get to grow up being in an NFL locker room, kind of running around,” he said. “I’m not trying to take any of this for granted because not many people get this opportunity. It’s kind of cool that my boys are going to get the opportunity to be around this.”

“This” is Dalton’s new world, or at least newer. He is one of the unquestioned leaders of the team, while, at the same time, he learns a new role as the father of two.

“It’s [totally different]," Dalton said. “But Noah, he’s made it easy on us. He’s such a good kid that he makes it easy. And now that Nash is sleeping through the night, that changes things.”

Having two children is a challenge that Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who became a first-time father himself last fall, isn’t quite ready to handle.

“I can’t imagine having two. I’ll be like, ‘What do I do with two of these things?’” Green said. “We’re going to wait until he’s 2 and then we’re going to try again. My wife is good with one, but I need one more.”

In some ways, becoming a father has pushed Dalton closer to his teammates. Although he and Green entered the league in the same year, they didn’t have much in common, with Dalton just married and Green still single. Now that Green is a father as well, they’ve bonded over the common ground.

“We came in together, and now our relationship is getting better each year,” Green said. “It’s definitely better now with the kids because now I can relate ...

“We talk about little stuff like that. It’s gotten much better.”

Green and his wife, Miranda, joined the same church as the Daltons this spring, and the Greens attend a weekly book study hosted by Andy and wife Jordan. About 12 couples show up during the season, including Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey and his wife, Noel.

“I’ve gotten to know him better through my wife because his wife is really cool with my wife,” Rey said. “I’ve got a daughter; they’ve got sons, so now they’re playing.”

If the responsibilities of fatherhood can seem overwhelming at first, the challenge of starting as a rookie -- especially at quarterback -- also has its moments of anxiety. Dalton, who was 23 as a rookie starter, was learning a new level of football while also having to provide at least a degree of leadership, as required by his position.

“I think that naturally, being a quarterback, you’re instantly given a role of leadership,” Whitworth told ESPN after signing with the Rams in March. “I think Andy is a tremendous guy and someone I can’t wait to see take over that role....

"But he came in as a puppy when I was already in the league and already a captain of this team. There’s still a tier there. Coaches or Marvin [Lewis] can give ownership to Andy while I was there, but everyone knows who is on the totem pole of leadership in the locker room. Veteran guys are just always over-ranking those guys.”

Dalton didn’t force it.

“At the end of the day, you just want to be yourself because people can see when you’re not,” he said recently. “But if you’re going to talk about leadership, being the quarterback and in that leadership position, when you start as a rookie, you’re in a leadership position but you haven’t done anything yet.”

Dalton has done plenty since, leading the Bengals to the playoffs in his first five seasons. The challenge now is to lead the team back to the postseason after missing out in 2016.

“Once you’re at the point where I am in my career, it’s easier to say things, especially with the younger guys. It’s easier for them to listen, because I’ve got the experience of doing it,” Dalton said.

Dalton is surrounded by younger guys these days, at home and at work. But he'll save the father-figure stuff for Nash and Noah. At least for the time being.