Dalton is answer for 2014, but beyond?

CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton is the quarterback of the future -- in the short-term, at least -- for the Cincinnati Bengals.

No amount of draft hopefuls or veteran free agents should be able to dispute that not-so-commonly accepted fact.

If you listen to what Bengals coaches and players have said about the third-year quarterback and his role in their soon-to-be-tweaked offense, you know that there are no plans for him to drop down or fade from the depth chart. The plan for now is to take Dalton as he is, mold his ability and better enhance the play around him in a way that slowly kills off "Bad Andy" while propping up the "Good" one.

On Thursday, we asked our readers the following: Should the Bengals draft a quarterback?

Given Dalton's difficulty with consistency and his lack of a postseason winning gene, the question was posed to see what fans thought the Bengals ought to do about a position that is becoming a small area of concern.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many answered with a "Yes."

Four choices were given in the poll which had more than 2,200 votes as of noon Friday, 24 hours after it went live. At last check, 29 percent of respondents picked the first suggested answer: "Yes, and they should draft one in the first two rounds." Another 38 percent chose Option 2: "Yes, and they should only take one in the mid-to-late rounds." Nineteen percent answered "No, I'm sticking by Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback." And 14 percent selected "No, but they should take a veteran quarterback in free agency."

One reader who responded to the poll via email had another option. "[The Bengals] should not draft a QB in the early rounds [1-3], and only draft one in the later rounds," he wrote, "if the player is the best available on their draft board. In other words, they shouldn't be afraid to draft for depth at any position including QB, but drafting a QB in the early rounds sends the wrong message."

He's right.

While it is interesting to note that so many of you would like the Bengals to draft an early-round quarterback to bring in the type of quality backup you believe will force Dalton into more intense competition, the odds of that happening are slim. Before this week, I would have even ventured to say the odds the Bengals even draft a quarterback at all were virtually nonexistent.

But after careful deliberation, I've come around on that. I'm beginning to think if there is a good enough backup available in the later rounds of May's draft, the Bengals ought to consider him. Of course, doing so also depends upon what Cincinnati has done in the earlier rounds as far as shoring up other needs, but if a good quarterback is still on the board, they should take him.

Josh Johnson hasn't proven to be the kind of player you feel 100 percent confident in handing the reins of the offense to in the event something happens to Dalton. Neither Zac Robinson or practice squad signal-caller Greg McElroy have had a chance to earn the trust that a possible starting quarterback should have.

Truth be told, with the inconsistent Dalton entering the final year of his rookie contract, -- and Johnson and Robinson nearing the ends of theirs -- it might be worth the Bengals' while to start thinking beyond 2014 and life with new backups, or worst-case scenario, a new starter.

While Dalton's first three seasons were rightfully about patience, the kid gloves are going to have to come off. The Bengals drafted him in 2011 to be an immediate winner, and they put the pieces around him in order to do just that. If we're talking strictly about the regular season, as a young quarterback, the 30-win Dalton has mostly met those expectations. But his 0-3 postseason record is what has Bengals fans restless, particularly his one-touchdown, six-interception showing in those games.

Even the notoriously patient Mike Brown will eventually get agitated if his quarterback has a similarly abysmal performance in another first-round playoff loss.

That's why, the Bengals have to at least evaluate quarterbacks in this draft class such as Aaron Murray, Derek Carr and David Fales; players who could slip into fourth- and fifth-round territory and possibly end up being steals. Murray, a tough signal-caller who battled through serious injuries his last two seasons, already has some of what the Bengals like: he's a University of Georgia product. Carr is the brother of NFL free agent quarterback David Carr. A big-armed thrower, Fales seemed to impress at the Senior Bowl.

As much as Bengals' scouts and coaches may glance at quarterbacks, though, there are more pressing priorities ahead. Those include adding to the depth at linebacker, cornerback and safety, and looking for defensive ends and offensive tackles to possibly replace a pair of high-priced free agents. So if the Bengals don't end up drafting a quarterback this year, that won't be a bad thing.

Some have asked Cincinnati to consider bringing in a veteran free agent to rattle Dalton's cage. The problem there is that there simply aren't many out there this year. Beyond Michael Vick and Josh McCown, the list is not inspiring.

All of this is why the Bengals would be best served to stick with what they've got, but to keep their options open when draft weekend comes.