With the start of the NFL’s so-called legal tampering period not even two weeks away, the free agency process is starting to heat up. This is especially true when it comes to the biggest star in pro football: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is currently on his way to hit the open market on March 18 for the first time in his career. And with nothing decided one way or the other just yet, the rumor mill is working overtime.
There have been rumors about Brady going to [insert team here].
There have been rumors about when the Patriots and Brady will start talking.
There have been rumors about New England possibly going after Andy Dalton.
Yes, that’s right, there have been rumors about New England possibly pursuing Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the event that Brady does leave via free agency. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport noted earlier this week that “one of their backup plans might end up being Andy Dalton.” Rapoport did not offer any additional information in regards to New England, but noted that the Bengals trading the veteran passer is eventually expected to happen.
This should not be a seen as a surprise. After all, there is one thing we know for sure: unless the Bengals overthink the situation they are in, Dalton’s starting job will become Joe Burrow’s as soon as Cincinnati selects the LSU product with the first overall draft pick on April 23. At that point in time, Dalton may or may not still be with the team — depending on whether or not other clubs like the Patriots are interested in acquiring his services — but his future is set in stone either way.
Would New England really be in the market for Dalton as a potential Brady-replacement, though? Three essential factors have to be considered:
1.) Cost: If the Patriots were to acquire Dalton via trade, they would take on his salary cap hit — and it is a hefty one: entering the final year of his contract, he is scheduled to hit the Bengals’ books with $17.7 million split up in a $17.5 million salary and a $200,000 workout bonus. Given that New England currently has only $29.07 million in salary cap space available, taking on Dalton at his current contract while also sending a draft pick and/or player to Cincinnati to get him seems like bad business.
2.) Acquisition method: The cost factor could look a lot different in case Dalton does not get traded, but rather released and later signed as a free agent. This scenario is not an unrealistic one: While the Bengals are trying to get something in return for him, his market not being a hot one would not be a shocker — the 32-year-old has the 16th highest cap hit among all quarterbacks in football and is coming off a disappointing season in which he was benched while going just 2-11 as a starter. If Cincinnati does not find a trade partner and decides to cut Dalton, he would be available at a much more reasonable price.
3.) The post-Brady quarterback depth chart: New England currently has two passers under contract, and if Brady does not return, it seems reasonable to project the team moving forward with second-year man Jarrett Stidham as the starter. If the Patriots do not feel comfortable with this possible scenario, however, going after a veteran passer such as Dalton — either via trade or more plausible on the free agency market — could be an option.
With all that in mind, what is the ideal outcome for the Patriots? Obviously, it is re-signing Brady (ideally before the start of free agency). Anything else has to be seen as the worst-case scenario.
In the event the 42-year-old does not eventually return to New England, however, Dalton certainly appears to be a viable option to be brought aboard if just as an emergency backup behind Stidham. That being said, the Patriots trading for him at his current salary cap hit is unrealistic: he is not worth $17.7 million, and the team investing that amount money in him instead of using it to bring Brady back would be one of the biggest head-scratchers in league history.