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Bengals need to dump Andy Dalton and sign Kaepernick

The ‘Red Rifle’ is out of bullets, even after Sunday’s performance

Why do I still root for the Cincinnati Bengals? Why do I expose myself to the annual agony?

I don’t always expect my teams to win or compete for a playoff spot. Down years happen. Rebuilding becomes necessary. That this Bengals season will extend the franchise’s playoff victory drought isn’t my central grievance. What most distresses me about my Bengals fandom occupies the quarterback position: Andy Dalton. I no longer can do the Dalton thing, despite his three touchdown passes against the pitiful Denver Broncos on Sunday. Trade him during the offseason, Bengals management, and sign Colin Kaepernick — this is the best way to quickly reboot the franchise.

I listen to The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, and whenever Le Batard searches for the name of a quarterback who will never reach Super Bowl-winner caliber, he reaches for trusty Dalton, the archetype for signal-caller mediocrity. I used to defend Dalton, believing that he, complemented with the appropriate pieces, could quarterback a team that hoists the Lombardi trophy. This year of futility, however, has disabused me of those Pollyanna fantasies.

One interesting recurrence about Dalton’s performance this year has been how color commentators have highlighted his shortcomings during telecasts. Tony Romo, for instance, scorched Dalton for his Week 3 performance at Green Bay. He ripped him for missing an open A.J. Green to convert on third down. Here, Dalton, pre-snap, missed the pressure coming from his right side, leading to a discombobulated offensive line and a sack. Romo rightly called him on it:


At a crucial moment in the game, Dalton failed to audible out of a run play that led running back Joe Mixon face-first into a blitz. Romo pointed it out.

Tony Romo could not stop pointing out Andy Dalton's mistakes

And during the Bengals’ Week 11 contest versus the Tennessee Titans, Fox Sports’ Mark Schlereth blasted Dalton for inaccuracies on passes to the sidelines.

Dalton’s troubles, seemingly, have infected the psyches of his teammates. When Green brawled with Jalen Ramsey — locking the Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback into a chokehold, throwing him to the turf and whaling his helmet with punches — I immediately concluded that Green would have rather landed those haymakers against Dalton. Ramsey was just a stand-in.

Green caught only one pass for 6 yards before his ejection, but he burned Ramsey deep down the sidelines for an easy touchdown earlier in the game — only to have Dalton sail the ball 5 yards out of bounds. Ramsey, a noted trash-talker, wiggled his way under Green’s skin in a manner I never imagined possible for the normally even-keeled wideout. Playing with a quarterback who stunts his greatness, however, must aggravate him. It aggravates me, and it’s not even my life.

Signing Kaepernick can be the plot twist this franchise needs to excite a Bengals Nation rife with fans begging to start next season with a new quarterback protagonist. Talented players fill the depth chart outside of two places: quarterback and offensive line. The team can cut or trade Dalton this offseason with no cap penalty. Signing a discounted quarterback like Kaepernick will enable the team to invest free-agency dollars and draft picks to improve the roster’s other weak point.

Although Dalton’s and Kaepernick’s career stats are comparable, Kaepernick is a better quarterback and would better fit this Bengals squad. Kaepernick would instantly improve the offensive line play because his mobility would slow down the pass rush. Defensive linemen must be more disciplined when rushing a mobile quarterback, easing the burden on offensive linemen, and this Bengals line should be begging for an easier burden. Kaepernick’s mobility, moreover, will dictate that defenses call more zone coverages — calling man coverages for a mobile quarterback leads to easy scramble yardage — and Green will thus face fewer double-teams since doubling in zone is decidedly more onerous.

Kaepernick might not solve the Bengals’ quarterback woes. Putting him behind center, nonetheless, allows the team to spend resources improving the roster while also enabling management to evaluate the team when led by a more talented player. If this plan fails, management can draft a quarterback the following year and plug him into what would be an even better situation.

The Bengals selecting this route will obviously delight Kaepernick, who, by various accounts, is itching for an opportunity to perform his craft. The Bengals would be a great fit for him footballwise. Green would be by far the most talented offensive player he would have ever played with. And rumblings bubbled up earlier this year regarding Bengals players wanting the team to sign him after Dalton’s pathetic performance the first two weeks of the season. His potential teammates would likely welcome him. He needs such an environment to excel.

But team owner Mike Brown stands as the biggest reason the Bengals represent his best possible destination. Brown wanted the team to draft Kaepernick over Dalton in 2011, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden preferred Dalton.

When considering teams where Kaepernick might best fit, people tend to focus on the nature of the locker room or the character of the city. This is the wrong way to look at it.

Kaepernick needs to be signed by an owner who will ignore the blowback sure to come from fans. For all of Brown’s sins — cheap and stubborn rank high on the list — he does not care one iota what anyone thinks about him, not even Bengals fans.

Many in Cincinnati will hate this signing. They will threaten to boycott. They will protest outside the stadium. Brown, though, has conditioned these fans to get over their anger because they know he will never listen to them. The Bengals have signed, re-signed and stuck by players who break the law. Fans ignite an uproar. Yet, they get over it. Kaepernick’s sins, wanting to combat racial injustice, will stir similar passions out of these fans. If he wins games, though, the fiery shouts will flame out over time.

If the Bengals sign Kaepernick, I think I can build some momentum to care about this team next year. But if I must ride the Dalton train again, I might not board it.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at Andscape and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.