When Andy Dalton was cut by the Bengals on April 30, 2020, teams in need of a starting quarterback had already filled their opening. His timing will be better in 2021 free agency.
Dalton completed his season as the Cowboys’ backup-turned-starter Sunday with a Week 17 loss to the Giants that officially eliminated Dallas from playoff contention. Signed to a one-year contract before the season to back up Dak Prescott, Dalton will become a free agent when the new league year begins in March. He could seek an opportunity to start elsewhere after stabilizing the Cowboys’ season in 2020.
“There’s a lot to be decided this offseason,” Dalton told media after the game Sunday. “This is my first time being a free agent when the new league year starts, so I’ll go through the process of everything and weigh all of my options and see what I got.”
If things had gone as Dallas hoped, the 33-year-old Dalton would’ve sat behind Prescott all season. But when Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, Dalton was pressed into duty.
The former Bengals quarterback performed close to his career standard, completing 64.1 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,169 yards and passing for 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Dallas went 4-4 in games Dalton started and finished.
Dalton did leave open the possibility of returning to Dallas next season. Assuming Prescott’s injury recovery goes well, the Cowboys will likely either franchise tag him or extend him and he’ll be back as the starter. Dalton grew up in Texas and attended TCU, so there’s some appeal to the Cowboys.
“Like I said, I’ve really enjoyed my time in Dallas,” Dalton said Sunday. “Just a good chance to play back at home where I’ve had a lot of family and friends that are able to come to games. I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I had this year, with the ability to play and just put some tape out there. We’ll see what happens come March.”
While it’s not exactly clear how many teams will seek out a starting quarterback in free agency, it’s not a super intimidating list for Dalton (assuming Prescott re-ups with Dallas in some form). The other free-agent quarterbacks include Philip Rivers, Mitchell Trubisky, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor and Jameis Winston. If nothing else, Dalton would be a highly sought-after backup for a number of teams.
“I feel like I can play, and I feel like I can help a team win,” Dalton said Sunday. “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.”
If Dalton’s Cowboys tenure is complete, he’ll want to forget his final pass. With Dallas needing a touchdown to keep its playoff hopes alive, Dalton scrambled to his left under pressure and let fly a wobbling pass toward the end zone. It was intercepted.
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