Andy Dalton is back like he never left, because he never truly did, much to his chagrin. When first-year head coach Zac Taylor and longtime starter after the bye week, it signified the organization was ready to move on from Dalton and give rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley a chance to steer the boat.
Three games later, Finley is 0-3 with only two touchdowns to go along with two interceptions and hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards in any of his starts, and Taylor has made the decision to reattach the 0-11 Bengals back to the arm of Dalton — the team announced — naming him starter for their Week 13 matchup with the New York Jets.
It’s a curious decision for several reasons that impact both the organization both now and later.
Dalton was very vocal about his displeasure in being benched only hours ahead of the NFL trade deadline which made it nearly impossible for him to find a new home, but he’ll now be tasked with putting on his best performances in what very well could be his final few games in Cincinnati. The three-time Pro Bowler is now disgruntled and the Bengals must decide in the offseason if they’re willing to pay him the $16 million he’s owed in 2020 (and $17.5 million owed in 2021), or if it’s time to cut ties and use what will inevitably be a top-two pick on a new franchise quarterback.
For now, though, Dalton will be tossed the keys once again to a franchise he’s captained since 2011 and, at best, he’ll have a chance to finish on a high note. At worst, well, he’ll inadvertently help give the Bengals reason to send him packing — not that he’s entirely against that outcome. Ironically, if Dalton does well, it complicates everything in 2020 and beyond, but Taylor isn’t banking on him to do poorly.
Furthermore, with Finley having been given only three games to prove himself, you’re left to wonder if he’s had enough time to find his groove as a rookie before having his plug pulled by Taylor, or if he’s truly not the guy.
Chalk this all up as the latest confusing chapter in a season that’s been nothing short of that for the Bengals, anyway.