Andy Dalton ‘Good Candidate’ to Start for AFC Team in 2021: Report

Getty Cowboys QB Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton could have a contract offer on the table when the NFL’s legal tampering window opens March 15.

Per John Clayton of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, the likely one-and-done Dallas Cowboys quarterback — an impending free agent — is a “good candidate” to sign with the Broncos, where he’d serve as the backup to and potential replacement for inconsistent third-year starter Drew Lock.

“One of the interesting candidates could be Andy Dalton, who was in Dallas in 2020,” Clayton wrote on Friday. “He’s a free agent and only cost the Cowboys $3 million last season. He filled in for Dak Prescott and could be a good candidate in Denver.

“The idea is that the Broncos want competition for Lock. He regressed a bit in 2020. Denver had to make the playbook a little bit easier for him, taking some things out.

“He still could be the starter in 2021. But it’s not necessarily a lock for Lock this time around.”

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Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Dalton has been linked to Denver. In January, sports analytics giant Pro Football Focus forecasted the three-time Pro Bowler inking a two-year, $10 million (including $8 million guaranteed) with the Broncos. PFF ranked Dalton 35th among the top 100 unsigned players this offseason.

Dalton finished 24th in PFF grade among quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks in 2020, and that’s about where he stands in today’s landscape of NFL signal-callers. He is one of the league’s best backups and can start if needed, but he disappointed with three PFF game grades under 55.0 for the Cowboys this season. Over the course of his career, Dalton has been a mid-tier starter who can produce with an excellent supporting cast, and that general premise still applies to him, albeit in a backup role.

Contract Analysis: Dalton signed a one-year, $3 million deal to return to the Dallas area and serve as the backup to Dak Prescott, but he was thrust into a starting role in the middle of Week 5. To make matters more interesting, future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith and starting right tackle La’el Collins were not available for a single snap with Dalton. He did his best to keep the ship afloat and certainly proved he could make a great backup for a team going forward, but odds are his days of starting in the NFL are very much over.

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Makes Sense for Denver, But Not for Dalton?

Whether he acquires Deshaun Watson in a blockbuster trade or scours the scrap heap for veteran insurance, new Broncos general manager George Paton is expected to upgrade on last season’s No. 2 to Lock, Jeff “JAG” Driskel.

With over $35 million in available salary-cap space, Paton has money to burn and a hole at the game’s central position. Dalton would represent an ideal mentor to Lock, a high-ceiling, low-floor gunslinger who, despite franchise arm talent, struggles mightily with accuracy issues. At worst, if injury or incompetence strikes, he can step in as a pinch starter, keeping a mostly win-now roster (and a lame-duck head coach) in contention.

The Broncos should be incentivized to bring him aboard and intrigued by the marriage’s possibility. But Dalton might feel cold feet. Following a tumultuous 2020 campaign marred by a concussion and COVID-19, the 33-year-old is on record as wanting to start next season, returning to the QB1 ranks. Failing that, he presumably would prefer to join a ready-made playoff contender after more than a decade in Cincinnati and a wasted season in Dallas.

“I feel like I can play, and I feel like I can help a team win,” Dalton said on Jan. 3, via the Cowboys’ official website. “Hopefully, with the film that I put out this year, people see that and value me in that way. I obviously feel like I still got a lot of good football left, and we’ll see how it all plays out.”

READ NEXT: Adam Schefter Updates Rumored Dak Prescott-for-Russell Wilson Trade

Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL

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