Don't send him packing yet. But the Cincinnati Bengals need to move on from quarterback Andy Dalton. And they need to start planning for that day now.
Look, this season is over. It was over before Dalton got hurt and knocked out for the season last Sunday in that debacle against the Cleveland Browns. This isn't his fault -- not entirely anyway. Look at who he has been working with this season. His line, from center-right, is a sieve. Cordy Glenn hasn't made anyone forget Andrew Whitworth. And worse, we were again reminded this past Sunday of what the Bengals did in that awful draft in 2015.
To be completely fair, injuries have played a large hand in what has transpired this season. I know, you hate the injury excuse. All teams have injuries. But the Bengals have been smacked by injuries this season. Nonetheless, a lot of their own doing has brought us to this: 5-6, with five games to go and fading fast.
The Bengals continue to give money to Tyler Eifert, who has been nothing but brittle and this season simply unlucky. A.J. Green is a Top 5 receiver in the NFL. But for the second time in three seasons, he's missing significant playing time. He also has had just two double-digit receiving games in his last 34. Tyler Boyd has blossomed nicely this season. After that, what? John Ross remains more promise than delivery. The rest of that receiver cast is a collection of players with just one foot off the practice squad. Tight ends? Have you seen any around here who can do what Travis Kelce does in Kansas City? Eric Ebron in Indy? Even Jared Cook with the inept Raiders offense around him? With a chance to take O.J. Howard in the 2017 draft, someone who can line up and block and help a struggling line, the Bengals instead chose Ross.
Your car needs some transmission work? Take it in for a paint job. But this isn't another "pick on John Ross" moment.
I don't know if Ross is ever going to be a great player, something you would expect from a player when you spend a ninth overall pick on him. My eyes tell me no. But who knows?
I do know this: Immediately after the Bengals selected Ross, the Kansas City Chiefs took quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Have you been paying attention to him this season?
Here's what then-Kansas City General Manager John Dorsey (now the Browns GM) and head coach Andy Reid saw: the future. The Bengals saw Ross, a guy who ran fast in his underwear for a hot minute at the NFL Combine.
Kansas City had Alex Smith as its quarterback in 2016, his career resurrected by Reid. The Bengals, of course, had Dalton in 2016. Compare their numbers from 2014-16.
Wait, I'll save you the trouble.
From 2014-16 Smith threw 53 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In that same time frame, Dalton threw 72 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. That's 19 fewer touchdowns for Smith and more than twice as many interceptions thrown by Dalton. Smith's Chiefs won 30 games in those three seasons. Dalton's Bengals won 26. Their completion percentages were similar. By the end of the 2016 season, Smith had been in the league 12 seasons, missing one with a shoulder injury. Dalton had six seasons under his belt by the end of that 2016 season.
My point is, aside from age, for the three seasons before the 2017 draft, Smith and Dalton were basically the same guy. In the spring of 2017, the Bengals went for glitz in the draft. The Chiefs went for their future. In that 2017 season, Smith's last in KC, he threw 26 touchdown passes and just five interceptions and he had the highest quarterback rating in the NFL. Didn't matter to the Chiefs. They drafted Mahomes. Everyone on planet Earth knew that Smith was gone. It was a bold move by Dorsey and the rest of the Chiefs' front office and ownership. Exactly when will the Bengals ever make a bold move on draft day?
The Bengals never would have considered taking Mahomes with the ninth overall pick in 2017. They were too focused on the present. They weren't going to give A.J. McCarron a chance, let alone draft another quarterback in the first round.
Some things in life you never stop paying for.
Would Mahomes have had the same chance here as he has had in Kansas City? Would the Bengals have given him a running back as gifted as Kareem Hunt? A speed threat like Tyreek Hill? Would he be throwing to the best tight end in football? I think we know the answers to those questions.
Maybe it's because the last time the Bengals looked to the future, they wound up with a couple of tackles who are still trying to block Browns defensive linemen. And the Browns flew back home Sunday night.
If you want to pick an epicenter as to why the Bengals are the Bengals, look no further than the day they let Andrew Whitworth take a hike. The Bengals were trying to unload Whitworth for a year, when they decided to take two tackles: Cedric Ogbuehi in Round 1 of the 2015 draft and tackle Jake Fisher in Round 2. Forget about the fact that Whitworth was caught holding just 14 times in his last 78 games as a Bengal. Forget the fact that he has been protecting the blind side of one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, operating in one of the most explosive offenses in football. The Bengals didn't want to pay him, despite his desire to stay in Cincinnati. Didn't want his leadership in the locker room either. How did that work out? Not too badly for the Los Angeles Rams, who are 11-5 right now.
The Bengals don't play the free agent game either. Who was the last free agent of any note that the Bengals brought to town? T.O.? That turned out well. Adam Jones? Well, OK. How about Sam Adams? Who could forget that? Antonio Bryant? Probably the reason they don't play the free agent game around here. Bryant got $8 million guaranteed and never made it out of training camp.
Not seeing the future clearly, not willing to admit mistakes and not willing to take risks. That, sports fans, sums up it.
At 5-6, the Bengals are still in the mix of mediocrity that is the AFC playoff race. But how good are you feeling about Jeff Driskel leading the charge? The anti-Dalton crowd is excited. But they would be excited to see Mike Pence or Mick Jagger or Fiona quarterbacking the Bengals -- anybody or thing besides Dalton.
Driskel made an otherwise abysmal Sunday interesting. But NFL history tells us the shelf life for success for a backup quarterback is short. The Ryan Malletts of the world can fill you in on that. Driskel will win some games before the year is done. The Oakland Raiders stink. The Denver Broncos are playing better but still aren't very good. Good luck against the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite all of this, this a golden opportunity for the Bengals. With the season snapped like the ligament in Dalton's right hand, they have a great opportunity to re-evaluate what they're doing. Do you want to bring Marvin Lewis back for another year? Hand the reins over to Hue Jackson? He has done just swell since returning to "keep his eyes on things." Imagine what he can do when he gets his hands on things.
The draft and free agent landscape for quarterbacks isn't great. So Dalton probably will hang around for another season. Do you get serious and play the free agent game, going all in for 2019, like what the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles did for the 2017 season? Or do you just stick a toe in the water and bring in next year's Preston Brown? Probably (OK, certainly), none of that happens.
But don't ever wonder what got the Bengals to where they are now. There have been a lot of signposts along the way.
Now then ...
Someone actually "masterminded" Reuben Foster to the Redskins? The same Foster who probably won't play again this season? Who knew those kinds of minds existed in our nation's capital?
Remember how Purdue head football coach Jeff Brohm said after Saturday's win over Indiana that he was "happy at Purdue"? And remember how he told one of his best players "not to worry" about reports of him going to Louisville as the Cardinals' next head coach? Well, alright . ...
This is the guy I wanted the Cincinnati Reds to chase. But, sadly, that's beginning to look like just another Drambuie-induced dream. ...
Barring a Georgia upset of Alabama in the SEC championship game this Saturday (which ain't happening), here's my prediction for the College Playoff:
- Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a better team than Clemson, but you can't reward a team for sitting a week out while the other team is playing for a conference championship. I think Oklahoma gets in if it beats Texas. Oklahoma will have beaten every team on its schedule if it pulls off a win in the Big 12 championship game. The only way Ohio State jumps Oklahoma is if it blows out Northwestern and Oklahoma struggles or loses against Texas. Oklahoma's defense is not good. But that Ohio State loss at Purdue is as glaring as the loss at Iowa a year ago.
Apparently, I have someone else thinking the same way I do. ...
Can't let the week pass without remembering Jimi Hendrix, who would have celebrated his 76th birthday this past Tuesday. Here he is in the summer of 1970 in Atlanta playing the Bob Dylan classic "All Along The Watchtower."
Hendrix was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne. He was honorably discharged in 1962. And after working some concert stops in the South, he caught the eye of Cincinnati's own Isley Brothers.
Ernie Isley was on my radio show a couple summers ago, when he was passing through town to play a gig at Jack Casino. Isley told me that not only did the brothers ask Hendrix to join their band, they had Hendrix move in with them, into their apartment in New Jersey. They asked Hendrix what it would take for him to join them. According to Isley, Hendrix said, "I want a new 'axe,' " musician slang for a guitar. Isley said his older brother, Ron, said, "Done deal." And the Isleys bought him a new "axe."
Hendrix stayed with the group until moving on to play with Little Richard. Within five years, Hendrix was touring as a solo act. His Jimi Hendrix Experience even toured as the opening act for the Monkees in 1967. It was a strange pairing that lasted only eight of the 29 scheduled concert dates. Monkees fans didn't know what to make of Hendrix. And when Jimi would bust out "Foxy Lady," Monkees fans would scream "Foxy Davy" back at him as their homage to Monkees frontman Davy Jones. Hendrix, fed up with that, "flipped off" a crowd one night and quit the tour.
He, of course, died far too young, a victim of a drug overdose. He was born in Seattle, Washington, 76 years ago this past Tuesday. And he remains, in my humble opinion, one of the top three guitarists of all time.