Andy Dalton might not actually be perfect for the Patriots

New England Patriots

Andy Dalton has seemed destined to land with the New England Patriots, but a wider view shows he might not be a perfect fit.

There was some value in keeping him as the veteran mentor to Joe Burrow, but on Thursday the Cincinnati Bengals gave up the ghost and released Andy Dalton. The move reportedly came at his request, and the nine-year veteran signal caller is now on the open market.

In the wake of Tom Brady’s departure, the New England Patriots have professed a commitment to Jarrett Stidham as their starting quarterback. They brought back Brian Hoyer in free agency to likely be the backup, and after not drafting a quarterback they signed Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith as undrafted free agents.

Even if it meant waiting until he was cut by the Bengals, due to their cap situation, Dalton has been easy to see as an ideal quarterback for Bill Belichick. Durable, tough, good judgement, accurate and intelligent were adjectives for Brady, and they’re easily used for Dalton too.

The Patriots have no apparent interest in Cam Newton, but if he’s healthy he has far more upside than Dalton. A peak-level Newton would likely keep New England in the AFC’s upper tier, but there is the inherent downside too. Stidham is an unproven commodity, even if he has impressed in practice over the last year, and the 2019 blueprint of relying on a strong defense would be repeated at a higher level this year.

The range of outcomes with Newton is wide, from 12-4 or 13-3 if he lasts all season as the starter all the way down to him playing two games before he’s injured again. If Stidham starts Week 1 and proves to not be very good, the “Tank for Trevor” plan would take center stage even if it’s hard to see Belichick consciously throwing away a season.

Dalton is a perfectly average quarterback, with certain strengths that remain (pre-snap recognition, decision-making) as he’s become below average by some measures. He’s also the kind of quarterback who’ll keep things on the rails, without elite talent around him, just well enough to yield an 8-8 record.

It’s hard to ever pin down what Belichick’s plan is. But it’s hard to believe a 7-9 or 8-8 record with no playoff spot this year, and a 2021 first-round pick in the teens, is what he would consider ideal. But that’s a likely scenario if Dalton is brought in as the starter, and upon further review that’s not necessarily what the Patriots should want.

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