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Soup's on as Bengals turn to Dalton for another playoff ride


You'd have to call Bengals president Mike Brown an Andy guy after Tuesday's luncheon.

The big gag of the day is the mock turtle soup.

As in, since anyone can remember the Bengals have opened the season with a training camp media luncheon in which the featured appetizer is the mock turtle soup. And you can go back to the days Bengals founder Paul Brown hosted the event at the Queen City Club.

Now Mike Brown is the host and the event is in the stadium named after his father and at 78 years old he is the same age when Paul Brown looked up from his mock turtle soup and talked about a young quarterback heading into his fourth year named Norman Julius Esiason.

There are two constants in the life of the Cincinnati Bengals at the beginning of any football season. Mock turtle soup and the quest for stability at the quarterback position and on Tuesday Mike Brown, heading into his 24th season as the Bengals president, one season longer than his dad had the job, toasted the stability of Andy Dalton.

"I like him on the field. He's steady Eddie. He competes. He doesn't do stupid things," Brown said. "We might not outshine everybody, but we are the turtle in the race, if you will, and don't count us out.  We are going to keep on chugging. That's what he does for us. He keeps us focused. He makes us a winning team. I don't discount that. I hold that in high regard. "

It's the only time the turtle has been out of the soup at this luncheon. Brown holds this turtle in high enough regard that he is trying to extend Dalton's contract beyond this season, his fourth in a career that has seen him engineer 30 victories, three post-season berths and a division title.

Dalton has been kicked around like David Klingler and Akili Smith before him because of the Bengals' goose egg in the playoffs, but Brown knows better.

 "I think he is an exceptional person. Nobody has more respect in our building than he. I would tell you of all the quarterbacks we have had he is respected by his teammates as much as any of them," Brown said. "We judge quarterbacks by different standards. How do they throw? How do they run? How do they lead? People will put him at different levels on those standards. I think that the one standard that counts much is did he win?

"So far around here he's won nine, he's won 10, he's won 11. That's pretty good. He knows and we know, everybody knows we didn't win in the playoffs. We have to get over that hump. First we have to win the opportunity to have another crack at it. That is going to be difficult but we are counting on him to get us to that point. We'll see. "

Brown had to laugh Tuesday as he recounted Dalton's credentials. Noting his three straight playoff berths, he said, "That's better than (Ben) Roethlisberger. That's better than (Joe) Flacco. Don't quote me to his agent."

Brown has been through enough of these quarterback contract tractor pulls to know when he smells a deal. He had a bad feeling 30 years ago when he executed a deal with Leigh Steinberg early in a spring day for the No. 1 pick, Steve Young, and then didn't hear back from him in the afternoon when they were going to finalize it. The next morning Brown woke to read Young had signed a $40 million deal in the USFL.  He doesn't have any of those vibes with Dalton. Of course, there is no USFL. But there is free agency. "This one has been going on for some while. We have had numerous discussions and I think it will — like most of these matters — find an ending soon enough," Brown said. "But I am not going to stand here and predict exactly when that is going to be. I don't really know. "

What we do know is that the Bengals are looking at the Colin Kaepernick deal. On Tuesday, Brown said that's the range the Bengals are looking at and while there are several team friendly items in it, the Bengals haven't been known to put de-escalators into their quarterbacks' contracts or offer loopholes that can stifle the deal after every year.  Since the contract can be taken so many ways, what exactly is the range? Brown would only say, "Not way beyond it."

The heavy lifting with Dalton agent Jeff Nalley is being done by Brown's oldest child, Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn, and it's not her first rodeo, either. She did her first QB deal 15 years ago and kind of got the best of Steinberg, and David Dunn and company in the Smith negotiations, when the Bengals decided to go tit for tat on the public relations front.

These are different times and she and Dunn did another quarterback deal nine years ago when they made Carson Palmer the highest paid player ever in the NFL during a negotiation that never seeped into the media. Same with this one.

"We budget the numbers. We're aware of where we can go. Katie's in charge of that now; I'm a has-been. I rely on her doing these things. She assures me we're able to fit in a pretty good number and that's what we're trying to do," Brown said.

 "You can tell I'm getting old. I'm a grandfather. And my granddaughters are in college. When you get old, your children get impatient with you. Just the way it works in life. I have been blessed to have been able to work with my two kids and my father. That's something that is unusual in America these days. And I realize that roles change. My role changed with my father, just as Katie's role with me changes. One time I went up, now I'm going down and that's just the way it is."

Brown has always had a special patience when it comes to quarterbacks. He likes them signed. He wants no question marks at the game's most important position.  He sounded ready to put the franchise tag on Dalton in 2015 if they can't get a deal. Why not? A $20 million hit in '15, plus this years' $1 million salary is no doubt far less than what Dalton would get in 2014 and 2015 in a new deal.

"When you get into leadership it's hard to define," Brown said of Dalton. "He isn't brash, he isn't loud. He just comports himself with a sense of assurance and dignity. He has success. The players respond to that. And I think they're right to see him in that light. That's how I see it, too."

If his kids are getting impatient with him, Brown doesn't sound impatient with head coach Marvin Lewis after extending him through 2015 despite his 0-5 playoff record.

"I'm satisfied. I get to make the call. Marvin's a solid coach and a good guy," Brown said. "I've gotten to know him through thick and thin. He's brought us to a good level. We're a winning team. And when you have that coach that can do that for you, I think you'd be foolish to be unsatisfied with him."

But there is also the sense that if Brown is patient, he is also expectant.

 "I feel we are a solid team. We are coming off a year when we won the division. Coming off three years when we were a playoff team. Only five teams in the NFL have been playoff teams these last three years and we are one of the five. I feel good about that," Brown said. "There's no reason in my mind why we can't be a successful team again. We have gone from nine wins to 10 wins to 11 wins. We have to win one in the playoffs. We are fully aware that didn't happen. It sticks in our craw. First we have to get the opportunity again. That is a long, hard road. We have a tough schedule, we respect our opponents, we take nothing for granted but in our hearts, in my heart, too, I think we stack up OK and we are anxious to prove we are going to be a successful team again. " Meanwhile, he hopes before long it is soup with his quarterback.

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