CINCINNATI — The Bengals made it clear that Andy Dalton is their quarterback now and in the future with a deal that makes him the highest-paid player in franchise history.
"We're betting big on him because we believe in him," Bengals owner Mike Brown said at a news conference Monday afternoon confirming the deal.
Now Dalton just has to lead them past their first game of the playoffs.
The fourth-year QB is 0-for-3 in that department, but he said he's not worried about haters who say the Bengals spent too much to keep him.
"For whatever negatives, whatever they want to say, it's not affecting me because all that matters is what this organization, what this team believes, and from the beginning they have believed in me," Dalton said.
Dalton's six-year contract extension is worth between $96 million and $115 million, according to media reports.
Pro Football Weekly and NFL.com say it's $96 million growing to $115 million if the Bengals win the next Super Bowl and Dalton meets other escalators. A $16 million average would make Dalton 11th among current NFL QBs.
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ESPN first reported that the deal is worth $115 million. If that's true, Dalton's average annual salary of $19.2 million would be the NFL's fifth highest for a QB - tied with Peyton Manning.
Either way, it's a lot of money and makes him the richest Bengal ever. Paul Brown paid $7.5 million for the whole team in 1967, according to Bengals.com.
Dalton said he "always knew" the deal would get done. "I'm happy to get it out of the way and focus on football," he said.
He acknowledged that the pressure will be on to deliver more than another one-and-done postseason.
"This is only a beginning. We have higher goals than just making the playoffs, and it’s my job to lead us there,” he said.
“Andy’s our guy,” star receiver A.J. Green said. “We have a lot of confidence in Andy as a player and a leader. In tough times, he’s unflappable. He’s going to take us to that next level.”
Dalton was entering the last year of his four-year, $5.2 million rookie contract. The extension takes him through 2020. The Bengals would not disclose financial terms.
Unlike baseball, football contracts are not totally guaranteed. Dalton is guaranteed $18 million in the next six months and about $22 million over the next two years, according to Pro Football Weekly. Beyond that, he's basically working on a series of one-year contracts.
RELATED: See the terms of Dalton's contract according to PFW
Coach Marvin Lewis said it's important for players to get contract negotiations out of the way and not leave them hanging. The contract ends any speculation that the team might dump Dalton at some point soon for fifth-round pick A.J. McCarron of Alabama.
Reaction on Twitter is that the Bengals paid too much for Dalton.
Brown said his daughter, Katie Blackburn, the club's executive vice-president, negotiated the deal with Dalton's agent.
"She worked hard for a lot of months," Brown said.
Bengals fans are happy that Dalton has led the team to the playoffs in his first three seasons, but they are unhappy about losing the first game each year. Dalton has saved his worst games for last. The QB has just one touchdown to go with six interceptions and a lost fumble in the playoffs.
Fans were crushed last January after a home playoff loss to San Diego. They expected a deep run in the playoffs after an 11-5 season.
Dalton had a fumble and two interceptions in the second half of that 27-10 disaster. He has watched video of the playoff loss several times.
Andy Dalton with Katie Blackburn, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis.
"I'll be the first guy to say when I did wrong," Dalton told AP during training camp. "Obviously the turnovers were my fault, that's what it comes down to."
But Brown has been publicly in Dalton's camp even during negotiations.
Brown calls Dalton a "steady Eddie" on the field and a leader in the locker room.
"I think he is an exceptional person," Brown said. "Nobody has more respect in our building than he. I would tell you of all the quarterbacks we have had, he is respected by his teammates as much as any of them.
"We judge quarterbacks by different standards. How do they throw? How do they run? How do they lead? People will put him at different levels on those standards. I think that the one standard that counts much is: Did he win? So far around here he's won nine, he's won 10, he's won 11. That's pretty good."
Dalton inherited a 4-12 team and the Bengals have improved each year, going 9-7, 10-6 and 11-5.
Other three-year accomplishments put him in good company:
> Dalton ranks with Peyton Manning and Dan Marino as the only three QBs in NFL history to throw at least 80 TD passes in their first three years.
> Dalton has a 30-18 record and is one of only five starting QBs in the Super Bowl era to lead his team to the playoffs in his first three years.
> In addition, Dalton has helped Green reach an NFL-record 260 receptions in his first three seasons. Green’s 3,833 receiving yards rank second for a third-year player.
On the downside, Dalton ranked in the middle of the pack - 15th - in total QBR last season.
And there's his 0-3 record in the playoffs. That's what fans seem to remember most.
The Bengals are the ninth team in history to drop three straight in the opening round. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, which matches the sixth-longest streak of playoff futility in NFL history.
Lewis has seen Dalton assume a bigger leadership role with the team in each of his three seasons.
"He was the starting quarterback, then he became the leader of the offense, and last year he became the leader of the football team," Lewis said. "Now he understands what all comes with that, and I think he's very confident with that."
Now, Dalton will get a chance for his final breakthrough under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
"Everybody knows we didn't win in the playoffs," Brown said. "We have to get over that hump. First we have to win the opportunity to have another crack at it. That is going to be difficult, but we are counting on him to get us to that point."
NOTES: The Bengals’ medical staff cleared five players to return to practice Monday -- WR Marvin Jones, TE Jermaine Gresham, DT Zach Minter, WR Ryan Whalen and OT Andrew Whitworth. Jones had opened training camp on the Active/Non-Football Injury list, and the other four had been on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list.