Andy Dalton arrived amid a chaotic offseason, left Thursday in the middle of a pandemic and never once in the nine years, five post-season berths and two AFC North titles in between did the focus and faith of the Bengals winningest quarterback ever waver.
He calmly inherited the Bengals from an overall No. 1 pick and leaves them in a better place for another overall No. 1 pick. He even had a word of advice Friday for Joe Burrow as Burrow takes Dalton's Bengals much like Dalton took Carson Palmer's team.
No one knows when the season is going to start.
"Just learn everything as quickly as you can, that's the best piece of advice," Dalton offered from Dallas. "And worry about what you can control."
A day after the Bengals released him, Dalton is the same guy he was the day before the Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2011. Except he's 32 now and he and Jordan have kids ages five, three and one and so many more friends for life they can't count. He tried to think about one text that stood out or made him laugh from the stream that hasn't stopped since Thursday morning.
"I wouldn't say there's one. There's too many to pick from," Dalton said. "I heard from everybody I thought I would hear from. And that's a good thing."
Dalton leaves the Bengals record book in his wake. Most touchdown passes (204), best winning percentage (.534), most game-winning drives (24) to name a few. Remember the overtime din of Seattle at The Paul? Remember the silent finish of Atlanta? Remember the fourth-quarter duel between The Red Rifle and the Graybeard in Miami in his last road start? Ask Baltimore if they remember.
But Dalton didn't talk about any of it Friday.
"That's what's so special I think about the game of football and sports in general," Dalton said. "You can talk about wins, you can talk about the games and the different things. (But) It's the people you talk about it with and who you did it with. Being there for nine years and the different people that became friends and the relationships that were built. Not only in football, but in the city."
As usual, just when people are learning to say hello they have to figure out how to say goodbye and such it is with Dalton and public perception. But Friday was not the time to talk about something as grimy as questions about if he felt underappreciated during his term in Cincinnati. Not when he thought about the sprawling legacy left by the Andy and J.J. Dalton Foundation that gives so much hope and funds to ill and special needs children and their coping families.
"I received a lot of support through my career. I felt it ever since yesterday when they announced it," Dalton said. "I'm not going to say I was underappreciated, or I think I deserve more than I'm getting. There's been a lot of good stuff that has happened in the last ten years.
"I think one thing everybody realized. I've given everything to the organization, the city, my family has given so much to the city. We didn't take our position and our platform lightly. To see what has happened since yesterday, it's bigger than football. We understood that, we know that and we're feeling the love and that's bigger than football."
To get the details out of the way, yes, Dalton was prepared to have a conversation about backing up Burrow if the Bengals were going to go that way. But March's free-agency spree appeared to wipe out Dalton's $17.5 million salary as an option. Yes, he believes he's a starter and a winner and he's making the next move thinking he'll play the next 10 years, he thought there was a trade about to be consummated back in March, but he doesn't know how it was Jacksonville's Nick Foles that ended up in Chicago.
"There were several different factors," said Dalton of a trade that never happened. "This year there were a good amount of quarterbacks that were available. I think it would have worked out differently if I had been a free agent when the new league year started. I was still under contact and that hurt me. I'm sure teams knew they were going to take a quarterback No. 1 and they would release me and there was no reason to rush into anything."
But this wasn't your average year and Dalton knows all about coming into abnormal years. Not only did the Bengals draft Dalton because Carson Palmer was holding out for a trade, but they did it during a labor impasse known as a lockout that prevented players from having contact with coaches until training camp.
And Dalton talked enough to Bengals president Mike Brown, director of player personnel Duke Tobin and head coach Zac Taylor in the last month to know everything had to be on the table as the pandemic evolved. But after the draft, well, both sides knew it was time.
"I had to know one way or the other," Dalton said.
So did the Bengals. And they decided they've got faith that Burrow has the same kind of mental aptitude that Dalton did to make 2011 possible, when despite the challenges Dalton became the first rookie NFL quarterback to win nine games and throw 20 touchdowns.
The Bengals even followed the same script in this draft, taking the quarterback and the big receiver in the first two rounds with Clemson's Tee Higgins. It sounds like Dalton thinks Burrow may have had it better than he did. Remember, Dalton didn't have Chad Johnson in 2011. There was no 1,000-yard receiver in sight, although everyone knew Green would be one.
Now, Burrow has that Chad Johnson-like grizzled Pro Bowler in Green running with the rookie, not to mention two 1,000-yard receivers and another first-rounder in John Ross. Dalton had a rookie in Green and journeymen Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell.
"We had a different group at receiver," Dalton said. "My year was different, too. Everyone wanted to talk about Carson and what would happen. That's why I say, worry about what you can control … (Burrow) is going to have some virtual meetings I didn't get to have. He's getting a leg up on a lot of things."
Since Dalton has always done it right, there was no question he would contact Burrow after the draft.
"I knew they were going to take Joe. Regardless whether I was on the team or not, I would have reached out," Dalton said. "He had a great college career and he went No. 1 and I just wanted to give him my congratulations on him getting drafted where he did. And tell him he's going to a good team."
But no longer his team. Burrow's team and everyone sounds ready for the next chapter.
"We're ready for the next phase," said Dalton, still calm and still unflustered all these years later, giving no clues on what's next.
Jacksonville? New England?
"I'm going to check out all my options and make the best decision for me and my family. It's going to work out."