<
>

Bengals mail Part 1: Would team really part with Andy Dalton?

CINCINNATI -- Welcome to another weekend on ESPN's Cincinnati Bengals blog. That means one thing: It's time for a mailbag.

We'll get right to this one, and as you can tell based on the headline, it has to do with a certain quarterback and his contract:

@ColeyHarvey: Thanks for the question, Tyler. It's a good one. Here's the succinct answer: No. The Bengals have said for some time they are committed to Andy Dalton as their quarterback and that they want him around for a while. But the thing is, how long is a while? As you're alluding to with this question, the structure of Dalton's contract becomes increasingly more favorable for his release in the next few years if the Bengals choose to go down that route. Although he signed last August an extension taking him through 2020, Dalton can be cut after this season at no penalty to Cincinnati. The closer the Bengals get to 2020, the more cap savings they would get for letting him go. After 2018, they also don't take on any dead money. If Dalton's play is sub-par after another two seasons, I could see that release happen.

As for a release after this season, I can't really see that, no matter how poorly he plays. Besides, if the Bengals let go of Dalton this offseason, who would replace him? AJ McCarron? A draft pick? Even with the numerous players they have eligible for free agency next year, the Bengals still probably will have an offense of mostly familiar faces next year. It's hard picturing them going into rebuild mode next offseason. The only thing that might change that would be a coaching change.

I also don't see Dalton struggling much this year. The Bengals made just enough moves in free agency and the draft to bolster the core around the fifth-year quarterback. He has a complete offensive line, a pair of solid returning running backs and a group of receivers that will be better than what he had at he end of last year. Dalton has no reason to struggle in 2015.


@ColeyHarvey: Bruce, the feeling in the locker room toward the receiver depth is one of overwhelming optimism. As I mentioned in the answer above, there is a belief the Bengals got better among their pass-catching ranks. Much of that hinges on the returns of Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, two players who essentially missed all of 2014 with injuries. It's hard calling Jones injury prone, too. He had one leg injury last year that he didn't really tell trainers about right away, and then to try to mask how badly it was bothering him, he overcompensated with his other leg, hurting it in the process. That's something that could happen to anybody. Yes, he tweaked a hamstring last week, but those happen all the time. He looked good doing the conditioning he was put through Tuesday when reporters watched the organized team activity practice, and told me he expected to practice later in the week.

While coaches still would like to actually see Jones on the field (multiple coaches have told me it's hard to evaluate how he'll perform in the system because he hasn't played in it for so long), they believe he could be a valued weapon if fully healthy this year. As for Mario Alford, the seventh-round rookie most certainly is in the mix. He simply has too much speed to be on the sidelines for 16 games.


@ColeyHarvey: We'll keep this one simple, Mike. For now, no real whispers of extensions that are well in the works. Yes, the Bengals have 26 players eligible for free agency next year, and yes, they want to re-sign as many of them as they can before next March, but the thing is, the team doesn't have to rush for now. Also, it's typically the Bengals' modus operandi to take contracts one at a time. They still have to sign all their draft picks. Once that gets done, possibly next week, they'll focus a little more attention on their pending free agents.


@ColeyHarvey: I think just about every team is thinking Super Bowl or bust right now, Keith, the Bengals included. True, the Broncos just lost standout offensive tackle Ryan Clady, but that doesn't mean they can just jump on a player like Pro Bowl lineman Andrew Whitworth, who's already tied to a team. For starters, that would be tampering. Unless Cincinnati shockingly released him this year, Denver couldn't do anything in the lines of signing Whitworth until next March, when he becomes a free agent. By then, will Peyton Manning still be himself? Will the Broncos still be a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Will the Bengals?


@ColeyHarvey: There has been a contention from many, myself included, that maybe the writing is on the wall for right tackle Andre Smith. He has dealt with a series of injuries in recent years and has had trouble at times living up to the lofty first-round expectations that preceded his selection in 2009. You're right, though. When healthy, Smith has been a strong option at tackle. He's one player I could see the Bengals letting hit free agency in March and seeing where the market stands on him. I wouldn't be surprised if more valued more by other teams. When the Bengals drafted tackles in the first and second rounds earlier this month, it seemed a clear sign that either Smith or Whitworth (or both) will be gone in March.