In terms of the 2011 NFL Draft, Andy Dalton was a steal. A second-round pick out of TCU, he assumed the Bengals' starting job immediately and he's held it ever since. In three seasons, Cincinnati has won nine, 10 and 11 games, and three times qualified for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, once the Bengals get to the postseason, their luck runs out. They're 0-3 and Dalton has struggled, completing 57 percent of his throws with just one touchdown and six interceptions.
Dalton's now entering the final year of his rookie contract, but NFL economics could make it problematic for the Bengals to give the quarterback a big-money deal.
"We are going to try to get something done, but I don't know if we are going to be able to or not," Bengals owner Mike Brown said, via the Cininnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner. "At some point we are going to have to do something more than just let everyone else leave waiting to get something done with that situation. We held back this year trying to put ourselves in a position to get him done. If it turns out it can't be made to work we will do something elsewhere. I don't think we plan to go another year the way we did this year."
With escalating salaries, Brown was asked if it made sense to lock up a young quarterback like Dalton early, before he could hit free agency where another team interested in his services might drive up the price.
"The player market is something that always is surprising," Brown said. "Why the prices are so high is hard to know for sure. You look backwards and there have been more bad deals then good deals from a club's perspective. That doesn't mean there haven't been some good deals -- there have. More often than not you don't win overpaying a guy.
”With quarterbacks there is another dilemma. With a fixed cap there is a certain amount of money and no more. You allocate that on a quarterback you have less to hand out to everybody else. It can cause attrition. We are going through a difficult time right now because we are trying to work through a deal with Andy and trying to hold back enough money in the cap to do that, yet we don't know what that is. ...
"Do you have a high-priced quarterback and less elsewhere or do you try to have as many guys as you can have and maybe a quarterback that is young and not so highly paid? Seattle, for example of that," Brown continued. "In fact, you look at the statistics it is rather surprising how few quarterbacks that are old in recent years -- saying over 30 -- have won the Super Bowl. They've gotten there but they haven't won it. I don't know is that better formula to go with a younger guy and spread the money around? That's a dilemma for us. We are trying to work through it. It's slow going. I can't predict when we are going to get that matter resolved."
The Bengals have to decide if Dalton is their franchise quarterback. Because the rest of the pieces are in place -- on both sides of the ball -- to make a Super Bowl run. The concern: Brown commits franchise quarterback money to Dalton (as the Jets did with Mark Sanchez several years ago) and he turns out to be the same guy we've seen struggle in the last three postseasons. Then again, Dalton's only 26 and it's reasonable to think he'll continue to improve. Either way, these are the inherent risks to trying to evaluate talent, and some organizations are better than others at it.
But the bottom line remains the same: Teams without franchise quarterbacks don't win Super Bowls. And whether it's sooner or later, the good ones all get paid.