Andy Dalton agreed to a prove-it deal with the Dallas Cowboys despite not being able to prove a whole lot, beyond holding a clipboard.
But it’s proof enough to the veteran quarterback that he belongs on an NFL roster. And, he hopes, enough to return to relevancy in 2021.
“I believe I’m a starter in this league, and I feel like I could bring a lot to the table,” Dalton told reporters in a May conference call upon joining the team. “I know I’m on a one-year deal, I understand the market’s going to be a little bit different next offseason. So for me, it’s just, I’m trying to set myself up and put myself in the best position for the second half of my career.”
Dalton, 32, was unceremoniously dumped by the Cincinnati Bengals in April, ending a nine-year tenure with the organization highlighted by over 31,500 passing yards, 204 touchdowns, 70 career wins, and three Pro Bowl selections. The move was made following the addition of No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.
To whom he shared parting advice — advice that, in a roundabout way, applied to himself.
“Just learn everything as quickly as you can, that’s the best piece of advice,” Dalton relayed to Burrow, via Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “And worry about what you can control.”
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Dalton’s Short-Term Focus, Long-Term Plan
Roughly a month after his Bengals release, Dalton landed a one-year, $7 million contract from the Cowboys. He was guaranteed $3 million at signing, the rest available via unlockable incentives — taking 35 percent of the regular-season snaps, 50 percent of Super Bowl snaps, and collecting a Super Bowl victory.
This pact is similar to that inked by new Patriots signal-caller Cam Newton, who received an incentive-laden $7.5 million for the 2020 campaign. The stark difference between Newton and Dalton, however, is that the former is expected to earn the starting job at some point.
The latter, meanwhile, has resigned himself to backing up Dak Prescott for as long as Prescott’s under center.
“Dak has played really well, and I knew the situation that I was coming into,” Dalton said.
Dalton’s foray in Dallas is as much about the destination as it is the journey. It boils down to the bigger picture: rehab his stock now, capitalize later.
And although hyperaware he boasts QB1 chops, with more skin in the game than his on-field superior, he’s slow-playing the process, his confidence unwavered, his candor refreshing.
“I think, because I’ve been a starter in this league, won a lot of games and have put some really good seasons together, I think that’s just, everybody on the outside’s going to view it that way,” Dalton said. “But Dak’s the starter on this team, and I’m here if, for some reason, anything were to happen for him to go down, I’m going to be able to step in and do everything I can to help this team win.”
Cowboys Starter Told to Eye 2021 Free Agency
Dalton isn’t the only Cowboy who’s already thinking about testing the market next March. If Jourdan Lewis plays his cards right, he’ll likely defect to another club along with the “Red Rifle.”
Bleacher Report lumped Lewis, the fourth-year cornerback, among a list of seven NFL players who “should look forward to free agency in 2021,” their respective stars beginning to illuminate the league landscape.
With so much depth at cornerback, Lewis may find it difficult to reach his full potential in Dallas. As an unrestricted free agent, he could explore his options and compete for a full-time starting spot elsewhere.
Lewis’ versatility could help him land a high-end deal relative to slot cornerbacks, or he may see a significant bump in salary if the team that signs him intends to play him primarily on the perimeter.
Entering his age-25 campaign, Lewis is due for a significant uptick in activity after playing just 589 defensive snaps (55 percent) across 16 appearances in 2019, when he notched two interceptions and 51 combined tackles. He’s penciled in as a starter opposite Chidobe Awuzie, whom the team is considering for a move to safety.
Dallas — led by a new coaching staff, including DB coaches Maurice Linguist and Al Harris — bolstered the secondary in recent months, importing CBs Trevon Diggs, Reggie Robinson and Maurice Canady and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the replacement for Jeff Heath (who bolted to the Raiders) and presumed bookend to Xavier Woods.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL