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Back up a little bit before you bash Andy Dalton's $115M Bengals deal

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You saw the contract numbers for Andy Dalton's extension Monday and you laughed. It was probably a loud one, too.

What the hell are the Cincinnati Bengals doing giving Dalton a six-year extension for $115 million, right?

What they are doing is being smart, especially if the contract is structured the right way. Dalton has flaws and has come up small in the playoffs, but he has taken the Bengals to the playoffs each of his first three seasons, which is special. He's also thrown 80 touchdown passes in those three seasons, 33 last season, which is why extending him for six seasons makes sense.

Yet ripping Dalton is a blood sport. He's like Carson Palmer. He's like Tony Romo. They've all had regular-season success, but have not got it done in the playoffs.

So they stink.

They're chokers.

Yet players like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are considered rising stars because, playing on good teams, they've won in the postseason.

Wilson and Kaepernick have talent, but I've had a handful of NFL people tell me the Seahawks would have won the Super Bowl last season with Dalton playing quarterback.

"He could have managed it just like Wilson did," one general manager said. "Wilson is more athletic, and gets outside the pocket to create plays, but Dalton would have found a way with that defense and running game."

The love for the mobile quarterback and the read-option plays actually has made players like Wilson and Kaepernick overrated, which isn't fair since they shouldn't be rated as high as they are anyway.

At some point, they will have to learn to play in the pocket. As one NFL quarterback said to me, "Two years. That stuff where they run around has two years left. It will be figured out. Then what? Two years."

I am not saying Dalton is among the NFL's elite, but he is more than capable of winning a Super Bowl with a good team, much like Wilson did.

Dalton's 33 touchdown passes was the third-highest total last season behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. He was seventh in passing yards, 12th in yards per attempt. He did throw 20 picks, which is way too many, but he was also eighth in attempts, also way too high. He has 60 touchdown passes the past two seasons, also third behind Manning and Brees. Yes, he has had issues when the protection breaks down, but who doesn't. One of the flaws in the Bengals' offense is the line is taught to go back in pass protection instead of punching forward. That leads to passes being batted down and bad lanes for vision. With a shorter quarterback, this makes no sense and leads to problems in the passing game.

Andy Dalton's TD pass total over 3 years is surpassed only by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees. (USATSI)
Andy Dalton's TD pass total over 3 years is surpassed only by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees. (USATSI)

Dalton was better than Wilson and Kaepernick in the fourth quarter, which throws a little water on the supposed "choke" factor.

At the league meetings in March, coach Marvin Lewis was almost defiant when reporters challenged him about Dalton being a good-enough quarterback. I sat and watched Lewis seethe as questions came his way about Dalton's inability to win in the playoffs, including a loss last year at home to San Diego.

"It's easy to point at one guy, but baloney, the football team didn't play as well as we needed to win," Lewis said.

There are four elite quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Then there's another group right behind them that I think includes Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. After that, you can scramble 9-18 any way you want, and Dalton is in that mix.

That's why the Bengals were smart to extend Dalton. I would imagine the deal would be similar to the one Kaepernick recently signed, which is a show-me type of deal that has guarantees each year -- not a huge up-front guarantee.

I am OK with that type of deal for both. Yes, Kaepernick and Wilson have had more postseason success than Dalton, but consider this: Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl and Dan Marino never did.

Like Lewis and every coach preaches to his players and the media: It's a team game. The quarterback is a huge part of it, now more than ever, but there are only a handful who can carry a team year in and year out.

The other teams have to hope everything goes well and the quarterback is good enough.

Seattle won a title that way last season. San Francisco has come close.

Cincinnati has been to the playoffs three consecutive seasons with that model after winning four games the year before Dalton took over. So this deal isn't as bad as you think.

Neither is Dalton.

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