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Bengals' Andy Dalton 'not worried' about NFL Draft, possible replacement

By
Alex Butler
Cincinnati Bengals veteran Andy Dalton has a 69-61-2 record as a starting quarterback since entering the NFL in 2011. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI
Cincinnati Bengals veteran Andy Dalton has a 69-61-2 record as a starting quarterback since entering the NFL in 2011. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is not worried about the upcoming NFL Draft, despite the team being linked to his potential replacement, LSU star Joe Burrow.

Dalton made the comments after the Bengals staged a fiery comeback effort against the Miami Dolphins, but ultimately fell short of a victory. The loss dropped the Bengals to 1-14 on the season, sealing their No. 1 overall slot in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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"You're not worried about the draft while you're playing this game," Dalton said. "You shouldn't be worried about the draft. Nobody's worried about the draft. Everybody is worried about doing what they can do to win a game."

Dalton completed 33 of 56 passes for 396 yards and threw four touchdowns, helping the Bengals overcome a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime against the Dolphins Sunday in Miami. His Bengals lost after a Dolphins field goal in the final seconds of the bonus period.

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The three-time Pro Bowl selection averaged 10 wins per season in his first five years as an NFL starting quarterback. Dalton is 19-25-1 in 45 starts since that streak. The second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft is on pace for a career-low in touchdown passes and is having his most inaccurate season since his rookie year. His 78.4 quarterback rating also is a career-low.

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Dalton's down year, coupled with the fact that the Bengals haven't won a playoff game in nearly 30 years, had many Bengals fans wanting the team to lose to lock in the top 2020 NFL Draft pick. Burrow -- the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner and an Ohio native -- is expected to be that pick.

While the essence of being a fan typically means wanting your team to win, a new variety of fandom is gaining momentum: tankers. The tanking crowd supports their team losing games to have a better position in the NFL Draft, enabling the team to select earliest when it comes to adding top college talent to its NFL roster.

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Tankers "not true fans"

"Those types of fans, they aren't true fans," Dalton said. "If you're a true fan of the team, you want them to win. You want them to be successful."

"Every time you're out there, you want to win. Every time a player steps on the field, they're not thinking about anything else but trying to win the game, trying to give their best effort and win. That's what you need to be a fan of."

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Dalton was in a unique position Sunday. While he always tries to perform his best and lead his team to victory, the game against the Dolphins had bigger implications for his playing future. A Bengals victory would have moved the team to 2-13 and closer to the pack of the NFL's worst teams, meaning they still had a shot at losing the top pick in the final week of the season.

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Losing the top pick might have meant the team would select a player who plays a different position than quarterback, allowing Dalton to keep his job as the starter.

The Bengals still could choose a non-quarterback in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but betting odds suggest Burrow will be their pick April 23 in Las Vegas.

LSU quarterback and 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Photo by Corey Sipkin/UPI

Even though Dalton is having a poor year, but he still is a respected in the locker room as someone who inspires teammates. That passion flowed from the "Red Rifle" during Sunday's rally.

"He was as fiery as you've probably ever seen him," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Dalton. "I thought he hung in there and really gave us a chance. He's always great on the sidelines dealing with me and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, making sure we're all on the same page. He's another coach out there."

Backed by teammates

Dalton also showed some of his fiery competitive nature after losing his starting job earlier this season to rookie backup Ryan Finley.

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The nine-year veteran admitted in late November that he was initially "bitter" after losing the job he had held since 2011, but since has gained a new perspective.

Dalton initially said he didn't agree with the benching, but did agree to help Finley prepare for the role. His desire to do the same for a future replacement remains a question, if he remains on the Bengals roster next season.

He could potentially mentor Burrow like Jon Kitna did for No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Carson Palmer on the 2003 Bengals or end up in a different jersey.

Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd -- who received a $43 million contract extension from Cincinnati in July -- has maintained that the team's poor record is not Dalton's fault. Boyd praised Dalton for his accomplishments with the Bengals and said he is a "No. 1 quarterback," posting Pro Bowl numbers after the team's 0-8 start.

Bengals star Carlos Dunlap also backed Dalton as the team's "franchise quarterback" after the benching. Tight end C.J. Uzomah said he didn't see Dalton "backing down from the leadership role."

"He's a leader," Boyd said of Dalton after the loss to the Dolphins. "We just follow him. He makes the right plays and executes the plays and we will do the rest for him."

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Now Dalton will be tasked with trying to lead the Bengals to a season-ending victory, with pride -- and possibly his future in Cincinnati -- on the line. The Bengals host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday -- the same team against which Dalton made his first career start nearly a decade ago.

"With the position we're in -- the circumstances -- the way this season has gone, to play all the way to the end of regulation [against the Dolphins] like we did, then to have a chance in overtime, I think it just shows the heart of this team," Dalton said.

"It shows what coach Taylor has been preaching to everybody: Staying together and fighting all the way to the end. I'm proud of everybody on this team. It would be very easy to give up with the position we're in. ... The guys are fighting for each other."

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