As you've no doubt heard by now, Andy Dalton, our Rose Bowl hero and living legend, got paid in a big way Monday morning. He finalized a six-year, $115 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals that makes him a part of the organization through 2020 (a year that seems much further off than it actually is, IMO).
As a Horned Frog fan, I was pumped when I heard the news. SHOW HIM THAT MONEY. After all, I think he's deserving of a big payday. He's the best quarterback in recent TCU history, and probably in everyone's Top 3 Horned Frog QBs of all time, alongside Davey O' Brien and Sammy Baugh.
However it seems like Bengals fans still have some reservations about their Red Rifle. I suppose that's a little justified, seeing how Dalton is 0-3 in his three playoff appearances. Cincinnati fans have probably replayed those three second-half interceptions over and over thinking about what kind of playoff run the Bengals could/should have gone on last season, and they've certainly voiced their opinions about Dalton since that point in time. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that Dalton has increased his passing yards and touchdown numbers in each of his first three seasons.
But as I was reading some of the things people were saying, I started to, naturally I think, get a little defensive on his behalf. After all, he's the Andy Dalton that brought a Rose Bowl trophy back to Fort Worth. He's the Andy Dalton that set every TCU passing record in the book. He's the Andy Dalton that was a true leader for those squads, and a genuinely nice guy to this day.
When I really got to thinking about it though, I started to remember the full story of Dalton's career at TCU. Looking back on it, I remembered the criticism that was thrown his way prior to that Rose Bowl year, despite the numbers he put up.
In his first season at the helm, the redshirt freshman Dalton carried the Horned Frogs to an 8-5 record and a Houston Bowl win over Houston. That season, Dalton set records for completions and attempts by a Horned Frog quarterback, while becoming one of only five TCU QBs all-time to throw for more than 2,000 yards in a single season (2,459). That yardage, by the way, was good for second best all-time. He had his ups and downs, as any freshman quarterback will, with wins over Baylor and SMU hindered by losses to Texas, BYU, and Utah. I distinctly remember a rather large TCU contingency wondering aloud whether the team would be better off sticking with Dalton, or if Marcus Jackson should get a shot.
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Dalton lost three games while at the helm, to Oklahoma (Sooner redemption for 2005), Utah (Where I witnessed first hand the most confusing use of the "overrated" chant of all time) and Boise State (damn Fiesta Bowl).After the 2009 season Dalton was the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, an All-American, a finalist for the Manning Award, and he even received a few Heisman votes.
After the Boise loss, though, the doubters remained. Can Dalton win the big game? When it really, really matters?
Of course, for Horned Frog fans those questions were answered with a resounding yes on January 1, 2011.
Now let's place that career arc next to Dalton's time in Cincinnati and be astounded by the similarities.
In his rookie year with the Bengals, Dalton had one of the best statistical years for a rookie quarterback of all-time (while simultaneously being overshadowed by the record breaking season Cam Newton had in Carolina) as he led Cincinnati to a 9-7 record and just their third playoff appearance since 1991. However, a playoff loss to the Texans left a bad taste in people's mouths, and Bengals fans wondered if Dalton was really the answer.
His second season saw the Bengals improve their record to 10-6 and reach a second straight playoff appearance (for the first time since 1982). Meanwhile, his passing yards increased from 3,398 his rookie season to 3,669, his touchdowns increase from 20 to 27, and his completion percentage rise from about 58% to just over 62%. Another playoff loss to the Texans, though, had Bengals fans hoping that Cincinnati would draft someone who could win a big game.
Last season, Dalton once again helped the Bengals increase their record to 11-5, they made the playoffs for the third consecutive season (for the first time in team history), and Andy threw for 4,293 yards (7th most in the league) and 33 touchdowns (3rd most in the league). However, an awful second-half against San Diego negated all of that.
All that to say this: Andy Dalton's first three seasons at TCU were all riddled with doubt and question marks despite his putting up great numbers. We're now seeing a repeat of the same situation happening in Cincinnati. Bengals fans, like TCU fans, were quick to forget the lean years, as expectations had a reason to climb for the first time in a decade.
So, while it may not seem like Dalton is worth it at this point, know this. If his fourth year at the helm of the Bengals resembles anything similar to his last year with the Frogs, Bengals fans should get ready for quite the ride.
So is he worth the contract? I say yes, because as TCU fans can verify, life without Dalton can straight up suck.