Unjust narratives are a part of the circle of life for the average football observer.
Whether these narratives are justified is irrelevant. Their validity in the moment is also beside the point. The nature of a news cycle in the age of tweets, memes, Tik-Toks (you are missed, Vine) is new information dispensed in one moment, and entirely fresh hyperbolic assessments being churned out in a breathless huff the next. Most narratives, like proverbial books being written on great coaches that fail in January year after year, or one statistic of minutiae that highlights a transcendent quarterback’s ostensible fatal flaw, only exist to feed the ceaseless machine of “takes.” It’s in one’s best interest to sidestep this avalanche of information every day, to develop a necessary tunnel vision, and parse through a sea of nonsense designed to incite reaction and only reaction. There is no grey area in this abyss. Only black or white, right or wrong, dead weight or a blessing.
But some narratives manifest out of solid cause. They’re sound and based in rationality. They’re true, rooted in fact. It’s only when they’re exposed to the biased hyper-activity of the Internet that liberties are taken in growing their extremes. This sentiment, for better or worse, applies to Andy Dalton. The 32-year-old lightning rod of criticism is entering the last year of a contract where there is no accrued dead money if he’s released. Someone in Cincinnati might as well be taking appropriate, bright red paint to write on the wall. When the inevitable occurs, the Bears must weigh Dalton’s resume before they consider acquiring their next caretaker under center in Life After Trubisky. The grass is greener, but only to a certain extent.
Nine seasons in Cincinnati has seen Dalton carve out one of the more nondescript careers in modern NFL history. This is not to say that he’s not a professional or that he hasn’t deserved the starting status bestowed upon him. He is, and he does. Since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 Draft, Dalton has been the picture of someone who can only move the needle to the positive side of the spectrum when perfect circumstances surround his own individual ability. And even then, he has his limitations. He’s not a bust, but he’s not a franchise player either. A passable 87.5 career passer rating dictates as much. He’s a stand-in who will wilt the moment he’s asked to extend beyond his meager means. These magnified failures occur almost exclusively in the postseason when the competition scales up, where Dalton has an abysmal 0-4 record to go with a 1-6 touchdown to interception ratio; another indictment of his profile.
Somewhere, every early New Year, J.J. Watt smiles about this early Saturday afternoon to help start the last decade. Dalton has never escaped those fateful three hours from his rookie season. It’s unlikely he ever will. The narrative nagging away at Dalton’s small imprint of a legacy is reasonable. He’s a “Red Rifle” who shoots harmless pellets in the regular season, and blanks the second the calendar shifts to January.
In the event the Bears do pounce on Dalton in the short-term, it’s important they understand they’re already placing a de-facto ceiling on their 2020 season. Dalton is a definitive upgrade from Trubisky, as much as folks who only defend a No. 2 overall pick because he was selected No. 2 overall continue to disagree. But he’s not taking anyone over the top. No one’s winning a game against an elite team because of his efforts and presence. In fact, they’re probably losing such an outing because of his efforts and presence. He’s a Band-Aid to be ripped off the moment he becomes more of a burden than he already is.
The appeal in signing Dalton is his general and very relative competence. In a league full of albatross teams that should never see the light of day again (hello Jets, Dolphins, sometimes the Bears), sneaking into the playoffs isn’t as difficult of a task as it seems at first glance. With a talented enough roster and a quarterback who can keep his offense running at a marginal level, attaining a Wild Card berth is one of the most plausible outcomes for an NFL team in 2020. Dalton himself might be the difference in two or three extra wins that push Chicago toward a playoff spot next season. He won’t be a catalyst for anything of any real significance any further, and that’s okay.
Acquiring Dalton would be the Bears acknowledging they have a vested interest in the long term. (Only so much that can be done without a first-round pick.) It would be them showing belief in their contending window having a gap, that with enough patience, can be cracked wide open once more. Settling for Dalton in a fraught market of quarterbacks is making certain most of the current roster has something meaningful to play for next winter. It would be him acting as caretaker over a team in fringe contender limbo. They would endure his services and wait for the following spring when the next anointed Messiah of quarterbacks can enter the fray.
Dalton’s signing would be (rightfully, to some) met with derision, as if the Bears are already punting 2020 away. By some manner of speaking, they would be. The Red Rifle couldn’t play in February if he had the support of the 1985 Bears and Bill Belichick as his head coach. But this potential move should also be viewed as a desperate, needed lifeline. A plea to build a more solid foundation under the current front office at Halas Hall. Something the Bears, who have missed the playoffs in four out of five seasons under Ryan Pace, need for the time being.
One must admit it would be fascinating to see the NFL try and shoehorn the Bears into an inter-conference playoff matchup with the Texans on Wild Card Saturday. Two teams just happy to be there. Dalton then experiences a traumatic form of déjà vu: A postseason experience rearing its ugly head no matter what city he calls home. A tasteless outcome the Bears would stomach as favorable.
Robert maintains that if Dalton had the aim of Ralphie Parker, the Red Rifle would inspire fear. More people should aspire to be like Ralphie Parker.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.