Bengals QB Andy Dalton's Contract Extension Actually Makes Sense
It was around 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, and I was hanging around the south end zone of the Texans' practice field, sweating profusely, watching the team practice with about a dozen other fellow media members, when my phone vibrated.
I looked down and there it was, courtesy of the "PUSH" function of the CBS Sports app:
"The Bengals and QB Andy Dalton have agreed to a six year, $115 million extension, according to sources."
The words hung there in cyber space, and taking them at face value (which inexplicably all of us do when it comes to these NFL contracts, even though they are literally NEVER nearly as good as they appear upon initial report), if I actually gave two shits about the Cincinnati Bengals, it would have felt like watching a friend enter into a marriage where you're a thousand percent positive he's not in love, but he's just getting married because he's afraid he'll never find anyone else.
That's Andy Dalton. The average wife, the 40 degree day, walking purgatory.
And $115 million richer than me. At least according to reports. Let's dig in and see what this thing is really worth, shall we?
For most of this offseason, speculation abounded as to whether the Bengals would put a figurative ring on Dalton's finger in the form of a second contract. Chatter only intensified when fellow 2011 second round pick Colin Kaepernick inked his extension several weeks ago with the San Francisco 49ers.
For his part, like Kaepernick, Dalton has been a fixture in the postseason since entering the league three years ago. The TCU product has taken the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons in the league, becoming one of only five quarterbacks in league history to accomplish that feat.
Dalton's also won 30 regular season games, becoming the first Bengal quarterback to do so over any three season period in the franchise's history. In 2013, he led the Bengals to a 4-0 record against teams that eventually made the playoffs, after going 0-7 against such teams in his rookie year in 2011 (and 2-2 in 2012).
This is the good.
Now, Dalton has also seen his interception total rise in each of his three seasons, from 13 as a rookie to 16 in 2012 to 20 last season. Also, in those three playoff appearances, he's been abysmal, throwing six interceptions against just one touchdown with a dismal passer rating in the mid 50's.
In short, the Bengals haven't just lost playoff games with Andy Dalton playing quarterback -- they've lost playoff games because Andy Dalton was playing quarterback.
This is the bad.
All along, my contention with Andy Dalton is that he is the absolute worst kind of quarterback that an NFL team can have -- just good enough to fool you into thinking you have "the guy" and just bad enough to keep your team from getting over the hump. More importantly, he's just good enough to where you have to commit to him in some fashion financially because he's one of about 20 men on earth who can play quarterback in the NFL competently for extended periods.
Which brings us to this contract. On the surface, six years at $115 million is absurd for Andy Dalton (and pretty much any quarterback outside the top half dozen or so in the league). But like every other NFL contract before this one, the devil is in the details, and as it turns out, here's how Dalton's contract unfurls:
1. The $115 million figure is the maximum Dalton can earn on the deal if he achieves certain levels of postseason success, all levels involving winning at least one playoff game (which again, Dalton has never done). The maximum amount of money represented by these escalators is $18 million over the six years, which would mean the Bengals are your 2014 Super Bowl champions (and Dalton plays 80 percent of the snaps). So this brings the deal to a baseline of six years, $96 million (backing out $1 million in workout bonuses from the baseline as well).
Now how about the guaranteed money? Well, funny you should ask....
2. Dalton will receive a $12 million signing bonus immediately, along with a $5 million roster bonus payable in the next several days. Add these amounts to Dalton's 2014 base salary of just under a million bucks, and he's slated to make $18 million in 2014. This is the only truly guaranteed amount.
3. Dalton is going to make a $4 million roster bonus on the third day of the 2015 league year (sometime in March) and a base salary of $3 million in 2015. It's logical to think that, barring disaster in 2014, he will get both of these (however, no guarantee for performance). So the first two years are around $25 million for Dalton.
4. From here, Dalton has a series of annual salaries that go up each year, beginning with a $10.5 million number in 2016 and topping out at $17.5 million in 2020. None of them are guaranteed. Also, beginning in 2016, he would receive the aforementioned $200,000 workout bonus each year for five years.
5. Most importantly for the Bengals, and unlike a slew of recently extended quarterbacks who received unconditional guarantees for tens of millions of dollars (more on these in a moment), Dalton's contract is never a "dead cap money" (guaranteed money and amortized signing bonus money) boat anchor for the Bengals. The year to year construct of the deal allow the Bengals to move on from Dalton after each season with a cap hit that is fairly nominal going forward, dipping below $10 million before 2015 even kicks in and going downward from there.
Here is Dalton's "dead cap money" progression year by year:
2014 $17,573,036 2015 $9,600,000 2016 $7,200,000 2017 $4,800,000 2018 $2,400,000 2019 $0 2020 $0
When you consider the "dead cap money" progressions of extensions inked by Tony Romo....
2013 $53,499,833 2014 $49,181,000 2015 $27,408,000 2016 $11,635,000 2017 $5,000,000 2018 $0 2019 $0
....and Matt Ryan....
2014 $51,400,000 2015 $33,900,000 2016 $18,400,000 2017 $10,400,000 2018 $2,400,000
...or Joe Flacco....
2013 $29,000,000 2014 $38,200,000 2015 $36,400,000 2016 $25,850,000 2017 $15,300,000 2018 $4,750,000
...then Dalton's deal is positively dreamy! (To be fair, at least the Ravens got a Super Bowl for their money.)
The contracts of all three of those passers listed above, all of whom are generally thought to be in the same "tier" as Dalton, don't reach a manageable, cuttable dead money level until their fifth (or, for Flacco, arguably his sixth) seasons. Dalton's gets there by next season.
Again, I am no Dalton fan, but this is not a bad deal for the Bengals. The only criticism I have is "Why now?" Why not wait until after the 2014 season is over and extend (or franchise tag) him then? It's a fair question. However, if the price of getting such a cap friendly, easily managed deal was paying Dalton a year early, it's probably worth it.
Who knows? Maybe he'll even win a playoff game sometime soon.