Pressure is on Dalton as negotiations crawl


CINCINNATI -- As the Bengals' starting quarterback, Andy Dalton's seat has been warm from the moment he took over for Carson Palmer nearly four years ago.

These days, that seat is downright boiling.

Based on his comments Tuesday about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's recent six-year contract extension, it's clear Dalton knows the stakes have been raised. The pressure to perform is higher than it's ever been. Three trips to the playoffs with no victories, and a contract extension in limbo will do that.

Following a news conference that preceded the Bengals' first day of minicamp, Dalton all but revealed his understanding of the raised stakes to ESPN.com. Asked to further articulate his thoughts about Kaepernick's clause-filled extension and how it might impact his contract negotiations, Dalton thought immediately about how close to perfect his 49ers counterpart will have to be between now and 2020.

"He's confident enough where he's going to be able to play out the whole contract and he's going to be able to earn everything," Dalton said. "For me, I feel the same way. I feel confident with what I'm able to do."

If push came to shove and he were forced to, Dalton would have no qualms about signing a contract similar to Kaepernick's.

But should the Bengals have qualms about signing him to an extension with as many years as Kaepernick's? That's a question ESPN Insider Mike Sando raised in this item published Wednesday morning. It remains to be seen if a six-year deal or a shorter one would be a better option for Dalton.

In Kaepernick's case, contract length wasn't the issue.

Since details of the controversial contract were made public last Thursday, its structure has come under scrutiny. Although it might pay Kaepernick up to $61 million in guaranteed money through its termination, the deal was set up in a way that gives San Francisco wiggle room to dump him at the end of each season after 2015 under the guise of performance-based pay. After this season, Kaepernick will effectively be playing out a series of one-year deals until the 49ers are ready to move on from him. If he's not playing the way they want, he could be gone. For now, he's only guaranteed to see about $13 million of that $61 million.

It's a team-friendly quarterback deal.

It also could be the trend for paying young second-tier quarterbacks like Dalton who have had some success, but nowhere near Kaepernick's postseason accomplishments.

There is no reason to believe the Bengals will offer Dalton a contract set up like Kaepernick's, but Cincinnati's front office has to at least be pleased to hear Dalton say he is confident enough to play under a similar contract structure.

"I don't know exactly how [Kaepernick's contract] is structured, but you want to be able to earn your way," Dalton said during his news conference. "I'm sure he was trying to get as much as he could guaranteed, but at any point, if you're not up to the par that they want you to be, it gives them a chance to cut you, to decide to part ways. So if you look at it from that standpoint then ... you should have full confidence in yourself that you're going to go out and earn every year that's put on that deal."

OK, yes. You're right. What else is a quarterback supposed to say?

But here is the thing: at least he said it. That's one sign that Dalton has a grasp of what is going on around him. His comments aren't the only reflection of that. His play so far this training camp has been reflective of that, too.

After watching Dalton connect multiple times Tuesday with receivers on deep throws -- long deemed a weakness -- offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said he liked the urgency, body language and general improvements that his signal-caller has shown so far this offseason.

"He's more compact. The ball comes out quicker. There's more urgency in his body," Jackson said. "All the way around, he's improving."

Maybe, just maybe, if the Bengals can keep Dalton locked in and feeling the pressure of getting a new deal done, they could end up being handsomely rewarded by his play this fall.

Come to think of it, that might be a good enough reason to stop negotiations right now and make Dalton play out fourth season without a deal. It's been done before, and the team and player both benefited from it. See: Flacco, Joe; Baltimore; 2012.

There is nothing wrong with having your starting quarterback feel a little pressure. So far this offseason, it appears it's been something good for Dalton.