Coach Marvin Lewis has been saying since the middle of last season that he trusts Andy Dalton and wants him to remain his quarterback for the long term. Team president Mike Brown has mostly echoed those sentiments, making it clear he and his front office are trying hard to figure out ways they can reasonably and fairly compensate Dalton on an extended deal before his contract expires next March.
The Bengals appeared to show faith in Andy Dalton by not drafting a high-profile QB on Thursday night.
So why on earth did any of us actually believe Bridgewater was going to be the Bengals' draft selection at No. 24?
It's the nature of four-month draft coverage in the social media age, I suppose.
By passing on Bridgewater ... and Derek Carr ... and Jimmy Garoppolo ... and Tom Savage and whatever other quarterbacks draft analysts had been pegging at one point or another as possible first-round selections, the Bengals sent a clear message to Dalton. They are, just as they've been saying, committed to him. Love it or hate it, the plan to keep Dalton in stripes is real. How concrete that plan is, however, remains to be seen.
The Bengals could soon tiptoe into limbo with Dalton. Negotiations haven't, by all accounts, progressed much. If they don't soon, both sides might be best served to just let him play out his final season without a renewed contract. If that happens, both sides better hope Dalton wins a playoff game or two. Another first-round postseason exit and the Bengals might be hearing the following words next spring: "With their first-round pick of the 2015 NFL draft the Cincinnati Bengals select quarterback ..."
A lot has to factor into that scenario, though. Much of it hinges upon whether the Bengals will in fact extend Dalton before, during or immediately after the 2014 season. Much of it also depends upon how Dalton fares under newly promoted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who has vowed to showcase a more physical, run-based offense that should take some pressure off his quarterback. I've gone on record as saying I believe Dalton will be better under Jackson. Just like I thought Bridgewater would have been good as a backup under him, too, had he been available in later rounds.
Taken 32nd overall Thursday night by coach Mike Zimmer's Vikings, Bridgewater came off the Bengals' board around the time most recent mock drafts began anticipating. Many Bengals fans who were holding out hope that Bridgewater might at some point fall to Cincinnati, were happy their former defensive coordinator was the one who landed him. Bridgewater goes to a team they don't have to see often, and one whose head coach they like. It'll make it easy for them to root for him.
By selecting Darqueze Dennard at No. 24, the Bengals sent a broader message to their overall team. The pick made it known that their commitment to continuing to draft the player they deem the best available is real. It also let the team know that while Zimmer and a few other key pieces from last year's top-3 defense are gone, the identity of this team still begins on that side of the ball.
It's hard to argue with that. Part of Jackson's emphasis on the physical and more smashmouth style of play Jackson comes from the preexisting identity of the team, one that comes from a long aggressive defense that has to compete in the physical AFC North. Noted as one of the more blue-collar divisions in the NFL, the AFC North just got even tougher from a defensive standpoint with the first-round additions of cornerback Justin Gilbert (Cleveland), linebacker Ryan Shazier (Pittsburgh) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (Baltimore). With the rest of the division going defense in picks ahead of theirs -- of course, excluding the Browns' other first-round pick, quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 22 -- it just made sense for Cincinnati to follow suit.
Yet another reason why the Bengals had no business drafting a backup quarterback in the first round.
While the message to Dalton on Thursday night was that he was indeed the team's starter, Friday night's picks could let us know exactly how long the Bengals do envision that to be the case. If no quarterback gets picked Friday, there is a good chance Cincinnati feels rather optimistic about re-signing Dalton well beyond 2015. The same can be said if they don't pick a quarterback in Saturday's fourth round, either.
But if a draft-hopeful quarterback does in fact get a phone call from the Bengals in Rounds 2-4, the message that call sends to Dalton could be somewhat jarring for him. Andy, you're still the starter, that phone call will say. But just in case, we've got your backup and possible replacement.
Dalton may have weathered the Bridgewater pass, but there are still messages he has yet to receive.