Quarterback Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals.  (Michael Reaves/Getty)
Quarterback Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Michael Reaves/Getty)
Getty Images
By Evan Bleier / March 26, 2020 3:13 pm

Because every major American sport that’s typically played at this time of year is now in absentia thanks to the Covid-19 outbreak, we’re shifting our attention to the most important signings, trades, rumors and trends around the NFL via a dedicated daily column. This is Free Agency Watch.

After leading Texas Christian University to a win in the 2011 Rose Bowl in his final college game, quarterback Andy Dalton was selected with the second pick of the second round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Known as the Red Rifle thanks to his fiery ginger locks, Dalton was the fifth quarterback taken in 2011 but has had a much better career in the NFL than three out of the four players who were drafted before him in Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.

The fourth, former MVP winner Cam Newton, has had a better career than Dalton thus far, but it’s unclear if that will continue as he is now a free agent after being released by the Carolina Panthers.

He’s still a Bengal for now, but the future for Dalton is equally uncertain.

After starting all but three of Cincinnati’s games during his first seven seasons and compiling a 63-44-2 record, Dalton has made just 24 starts over the last two seasons due to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness and gone 7-17.

Last season, things got so bad for Dalton that he was benched by first-year coach Zac Taylor in favor of Ryan Finley, a rookie who failed to clear 200 passing yards, score more than 13 points or complete even 55 percent of his passes in all three of his starts.

By season’s end, Dalton was back as Cincy’s starter and ended up finishing the season with 16 scores and 14 interceptions in his 13 starts, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since his rookie season in the process.

Now 32 and entering his 10th NFL season, Dalton has a career record of 70-61-2 to go along with 31,594 passing yards, 204 touchdowns, 118 interceptions and a respectable completion percentage of 62.0.

All in all, Dalton has actually been a fairly decent quarterback for one of the most inept franchises in the NFL and probably deserves another crack at starting in the NFL.

But, with the Bengals nearly guaranteed to select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, it won’t come in Cincinnati and — given that most teams already have starters in place and Newton is still a free agent — it’s unclear where else Dalton might get a chance.

At this point, it seems the Bengals may just hold onto Dalton and wait to see how things play out at offseason workouts before cutting him. Since Dalton’s $17.5-million base salary is not guaranteed, the team loses nothing by waiting. As for Dalton, he just loses time.

It seems odd to say it given what a joke the Bengals — who haven’t won a playoff game since 1990 — have been for so long, but Dalton actually deserves better. He may not go out with a bang, but, at the very least, the Red Rifle deserves another shot.

Outside of Cincinnati, free agency continued with a slate of minor movies.

In Buffalo, the Bills signed cornerback E.J. Gaines to a one-year contract but he is no lock to make coach Sean McDermott’s 53-man roster. 

In Indianapolis, the Colts signed defensive Sheldon Day, formerly of the 49ers, to a one-year contract. In Indy, Day will once again play alongside DeForest Buckner, his former teammate in San Francisco.

Elsewhere in the NFL, the Lions signed wide receiver Geremy Davis, formerly of the Chargers, the Browns signed center Evan Brown, the Steelers signed XFL alum safety Tyree Kinnel, the Redskins signed former Giants wide receiver Cody Latimer, the. Cardinals re-signed running back D.J. Foster to a one-year contract and the Bears re-signed quarterback Tyler Bray.

Though nothing has been agreed upon in Dallas, the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott have re-engaged on long-term contract talks. The recipient of the Cowboys’ exclusive rights franchise tag ahead of the start of free agency, Prescott will be back with Dallas whether the two sides are able to reach an agreement or not. If they do, it seems reasonable to expect Prescott’s deal will average around $35 million annually.

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