Dalton had been the Bengals' primary starter since they selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. Dalton, 32, led Cincinnati to the playoffs five times, though the Bengals lost in the wild-card round each time, and is the franchise's career leader in touchdown passes.
The move comes one week after the Bengals drafted former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the top overall pick. Burrow threw 60 touchdowns in 2019, an FBS record, and won the Heisman Trophy as he led the Tigers to the national championship.
Dalton was set to earn $17.7 million in the final season of a six-year contract worth $96 million. After the Bengals went on a spending spree this summer, Cincinnati did not have the salary-cap space to keep Dalton and sign its incoming rookie class.
"Andy will always hold a special place with this franchise, and I know that he holds a special place in my heart," team president Mike Brown said in a statement. "This is a hard day for our club because we know and appreciate what a consummate professional Andy has always been. We respect and appreciate Andy, and we thank him."
9 years— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) April 30, 2020
An unquestionable impact on the community
Thank you, Andy! pic.twitter.com/tf4XATV0by
Prior to the decision to release Dalton, the Bengals tried to trade the quarterback, a source told ESPN's Josina Anderson, adding that Dalton "requested the opportunity to see what's out there."
The Jacksonville Jaguars were one team that looked into Dalton's availability prior to his release, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, did not show strong interest in Dalton in recent weeks, according to Fowler.
After the 2019 regular-season finale, a win over the Cleveland Browns, Dalton acknowledged the game may have been his last with the Bengals and reflected on his tenure with the franchise.
"This city has been our home since I got drafted here, and this city's meant a lot," Dalton said. "I'm thankful for all the people that we've met. There's been a lot of good people in Cincinnati who have pushed me, my wife and my family to be better people, and we're grateful for that."
Thursday's news signaled the latest cut in an offseason full of roster overhaul in Cincinnati. By releasing Dalton and four other veterans, the Bengals cleared $41.6 million toward its 2020 cap allotment. During free agency, the Bengals spent more than $145 million to improve a franchise that finished with the league's worst record in 2019.
In nine years, Dalton was 70-61-2 as a starter, led the Bengals to the postseason from 2011 to 2015 and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. Along with his franchise-record 204 touchdown passes, he is second in passing yards with 31,594, behind only Ken Anderson (32,838).
But Cincinnati did not win a playoff game during Dalton's tenure, continuing a drought that stretches back to January 1991 and is the longest in the NFL.
A series of events signaled the end of his run in Cincinnati. The team did not give him an extension leading up to the 2019 season. After the Bengals started the year with eight straight losses, coach Zac Taylor benched Dalton in favor of rookie Ryan Finley.
"He said he has to think about the future with the draft and we have to see what we have in Ryan," Dalton said at the time. "That's what it came down to."
Three games later, Dalton was reinserted into the starting lineup and led the Bengals to a win over the New York Jets on Dec. 1. Dalton passed Anderson for the franchise touchdown record during the 22-6 victory.
But Dalton finished 2019 with a Total QBR of 40.1, which ranked 27th out of 30 qualifying quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Throughout the offseason, it became clear that Dalton's contract would not allow the Bengals to keep him at his current salary. Cincinnati was unable to trade Dalton leading up to last week's draft. At its conclusion, Taylor declined to say whether the Bengals received any offers for the veteran quarterback.
On Thursday, Taylor said Dalton "will always be considered a key member of the Bengals' organization."
"His teammates and coaches appreciate his leadership and his commitment to winning," Taylor said in a statement. "Just as importantly, Andy and his wife JJ are leaving a lasting impact in the community with the incredible work their foundation has done over the years. Andy and his family have meant a lot to this team and this city, and we wish them the best in the future."
Dalton joined the Bengals in 2011 as a second-round pick out of TCU. After the league ended its lockout in 2011, he became the team's starting quarterback and helped the Bengals reach the postseason for the next five years.
Off the field, Dalton and his wife ran a nonprofit foundation that raised funds for families of children with special needs throughout greater Cincinnati and in Texas, where they are from. When he was benched, fans donated money to Dalton's foundation as a tribute of thanks for his time as the team's starter.
Before his final game with the Bengals, he said that's how he wanted to be remembered.
"We wanted to make sure that we were all-in, and we've been all-in on Cincinnati since we got here," Dalton said. "I hope the people see that. I've received a lot of support throughout my years here."