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Posted Aug 4, 2014

The Bengals made a major strike for their long-term future Monday when they agreed to terms with Andy Dalton on a deal worthy of a franchise quarterback.

Mike Brown looked at Andy Dalton Monday and thought about the $7.5 million and he and his father paid for the Bengals in 1967.

“I thought we’d never pay it off,” said Brown, but he pointed to Dalton and said. “I know this one will pay off.”

The Bengals made a major strike for their long-term future Monday when they signed Dalton to a deal worthy of a franchise quarterback.

It’s believed that while the Bengals made him their highest paid player in history with a six-year extension through 2020, Dalton agreed to a contract that allows the Bengals to extend other key players for a team that has been to the playoffs three straight years.

“This is unbelievable. I’m just very thankful for the Bengals organization and for my teammates to help me here where I am,” Dalton said. “I’m excited about the future and that I’ll be here for a long time.

“It means a lot,” Dalton said of the support he’s received from the club since the home loss to the Chargers in last year's Wild Card Game. “To hear it is one thing. Now it’s officially done. I know I’m going to be here for a long time.”

Dalton and the Bengals embraced the idea of team after he signed what was characterized nationally as a significant deal that didn’t break the bank for the players coming after him, i.e. A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict, Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, among others.

At the end of Monday’s practice in the team huddle, head coach Marvin Lewis announced the Dalton extension and got a round of applause.

“The biggest thing is what he said before that,” Dalton said, taking a break in the cool of a training camp late afternoon after enjoying a 30-minute post-practice respite with month-old Noah, his wife and the baby’s grandmothers.

“I did get here with the help of everybody and that’s so true,’ Dalton said. “I’ve had a lot of great people help me get here. That’s the biggest thing is that everybody is a part of it and it’s not about just myself.”

The 26-year-old Dalton and Green, a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, have emerged as the centerpiece of that run with Dalton becoming the fourth quarterback in history to make the playoffs in his first three NFL seasons. He’s still looking for that first playoff win, but his 48 straight regular-season starts outweighed his one touchdown and six interceptions in the postseason.

“I expect to go out and play well. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t think there is any more pressure,” Dalton said. “The biggest thing hanging over me is I haven’t won a playoff game. That’s what we’re striving to do. Not win just one, but win it all.  Until that happens, people will always say, ‘he hasn’t done this, he hasn’t done that.’ I have to go out and accomplish that.”

Since assuming the mantle as franchise quarterback immediately when he came out of the second round from Texas Christian in 2011, Dalton has joined Peyton Manning and Dan Marino as the only players to throw at least 80 touchdowns in their first three seasons. Last year while setting the club record with 33 touchdown passes, Dalton became the first Bengals quarterback to win 30 games (30-18) in three seasons.

“The guy deserved it. He’s put in the work,” Whitworth said. “He’s had a lot of success here, even though you can go around town and probably not realize that. I’m not real sure what fans are thinking. I’ve been here in the times when they went to one playoff in 20 years. He’s taken them to three straight.”

Whitworth probably knows more about the deal than most since he knew last week it was coming down as one of Dalton’s consultants. Dalton, aware that Whitworth has received multiple extensions from the Bengals, appreciated bouncing his situation off a guy that had been there.  Whitworth says Dalton wanted to make sure it was cap friendly for his surrounding cast.

“That’s important to Andy. He understands the game. He understands what makes it go,” Whitworth said. “He won at a place at TCU where not many people won as much as he did. He understands that part. He understands that he needs other guys that help him win. He came in as a rookie and played on a team when it lost its franchise quarterback and was supposed to go 0-16.”

One of those TCU teammates, backup tackle Marshall Newhouse, knows Dalton as well as anybody.

“He’ll be better,” Newhouse said. “Any guy with pride wants to live up to that kind of deal. I can only see him getting better from here.”

Naturally, the next fingers pointed at Green. And, just as naturally, he shrugged.

“Not really,” Green when asked about his own status. “My body of work speaks for itself. Whenever my time comes, it happens. That’s one thing I don’t think about.”

Green agreed with Whitworth. The quarterback that has led a team to three straight post-season berths deserves to get paid.

“The contract he just got, you can’t be an average player and get something like that,” Green said. “He gets too much crap about we’re not winning the playoff games, but we all put a hand in that.”

Whitworth, along with former right guard Bobbie Williams, was a vocal supporter of Dalton early in his uncertain rookie training camp of 2011 and has never wavered. He notices changes for the better this camp in new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's system, as well as more confident leadership.

"He loves this style. He likes the energy we have. Hue’s done a great job of keeping that kind of foot to the pedal. To me it’s the most relaxed and just having fun that I’ve seen him," Whitworth said.

"I think he’s doing little things (as a leader)," Whitworth said. The truth with the great quarterbacks is it’s the little things. Some people look for a play or a certain down, or a certain big moment in a game. But the real truth, the guys that you call great leaders, it’s the real little things that people just don’t take real notice of. Only guys in the locker room would know that he’s doing it. Encouraging guys here and there. Taking a moment with a young offensive lineman to encourage him. Making himself available to guys that need help, those kinds of things. That’s what you see the great ones do and makes them special."

Whitworth and cornerback Leon Hall signed extensions just before the 2011 season and they think Dalton can adjust to the ensuing pressure.

"I think there is a little pressure, as far as you get this deal and people see the numbers that now, you might have been playing great but now you have to do something more," Hall said.  "There’s always that idea in your mind when it happens. I started to think like that in the beginning, but at the same time you have to realize that they’re paying you this money because of what you’ve done and what they want you to do, but obviously if you didn’t play well and do your job you wouldn’t have got that deal in the first place. You have to take a step back and realize that you have to keep working."

Whitworth isn't so sure Dalton is even going to celebrate. Not with an Opening Game against Joe Flacco, a home opener against Matt Ryan and nationally televised games against Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and, yes, probably Johnny Manziel.

"Sometimes guys can get distracted in the sense that once you get money you feel like you’ve kind of made it. But I think in the world of quarterbacks, it takes so much time and demands so much, they really don't have time to do that," Whitworth said.

"The reason they are the highest paid guys is because of the time they have to put in, the effort they have to put in and the truth is they’re kind of the leaders of the franchise. They dictate where you go. They’ve got so much going on, it will be hard for him to really take the time and enjoy this. He’s got a lot of work to do and a lot of guys to lead."

The sides have been talking since the spring and while there were good days and bad days, the deal has been pretty much in place for a couple of weeks and was finalized in principle on Sunday before language was exchanged Monday morning.

Reports surfaced Monday before the Bengals went out to practice that Dalton’s six-year extension is worth $96 million and if he hits all his individual and team milestones scheduled in the contract he’ll make $115 million. At $16 million per year in the base, he more than doubles the Bengals purchase price and becomes the highest paid player in Bengals history in average salary.

But it also means they have their offensive leader and the guy who has quarterbacked them to their most successful three-year stretch in history. And for the Bengals, it was a straight-forward, no-gimmick, no escape-valve, pure football  deal.

They gave Dalton more money quicker ($25 million in the first two years) than the 49ers gave Colin Kaepernick with accelerators rather than Kaepernick’s de-accelerators (he gets a $1.5 million increase in base salary if the Bengals reach the Super Bowl) in exchange for a workable average salary of $16 million, ranked 11th in the league among quarterbacks, according to spotrac.com. For a guy that finished third in touchdowns, 12th in average gain and 15th in passer rating last year, that looks like a fair slot.

"Obviously Andy and Kaepernick were very close in the draft. They’ve both done very well. But in fairness we’d pretty much started down a certain path by that time," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn. " In all honestly, while we discussed it, we had started down a path at that time and we pretty much stayed on the path we had started down. It had some similarities, coincidentally, to what you saw in the Kaepernick deal. Just in little ways. Of course you can say that about all the deals."

The money up front not only sets up Dalton, but it allows for the other big deals on the way, counting just $9 million and $9.4 million against the cap in the next two years, according to spotrac.com.  The Bengals signed Dalton to be their guy so they’re not looking for an out and they pride themselves on being among the NFL leaders in lack of dead money. His cap hits are  manageable, but that's not the Bengals way.

Dalton is their guy now and in 2020.

“You don’t sign a guy to a long-term deal thinking  about getting out of it,’ Blackburn said.   “You’re thinking about the long-interest of the team. It has to be something you feel good about for the team and the player and I think we finally did reach that.”

It’s believed the Dalton deal has used up the bulk of what is left of their $133 million salary cap for 2014 and that the remains are earmarked for replacing their injured players during the season. With the ability to roll over $8 million, the Bengals are still eying extensions for Green, Burfict, their Pro Bowl WILL linebacker, and two-time Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham, among others.

The Bengals wanted to make sure they signed Dalton before he hit free agency after this season, but they also weren’t looking to get tied up by a monster deal. That has happened when quarterbacks are involved. After the Ravens signed Flacco, they ended up moving past safety Ed Reed and tackle Michael Oher last season, along with other key contributors.

According to profootballtalk.com, if in any year he participates in 80-percent of the regular-season snaps and the Bengals get to the divisional round of the playoffs (Wild Card win or bye), he gets another $1 million in each additional year of the deal.  If he qualifies at any point for the conference title game (with 80-percent playing time in the regular season), another $500,000 gets added to his salary for each additional year.  If he reaches the Super Bowl,  that's  another $1.5 million per year for each remaining year.

The Bengals have already exercised their $10.5 million option on Green for 2015, but have said they’d like to get him for longer.

 The process to keep together a team that has qualified for the playoffs in four seasons of the five past seasons began in the 2011 preseason when they extended Whitworth and Hall. When they extended defensive linemen Geon Atkins and Carlos Dunlap with mega deals last preseason, they finished the season as the third highest spending team in the league.


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