By Jori Epstein
Andy Dalton is not ready to settle as a career backup.
“I believe I’m a starter in this league,” the nine-year Bengals starter said on a conference call Wednesday. “And I feel like I could bring a lot to the table. I know I’m on a one-year deal. I understand the market’s going to be a little bit different next offseason.”
The Bengals released Dalton last week in favor of No. 1 overall draft selection Joe Burrow. Monday, the Cowboys signed Dalton to a one-year deal worth $3 million with incentives that could reach $7 million, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed to USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose terms of the contract.
Dalton says he’s viewing 2020 as a bridge year to begin the second half of his career. He had several offers with teams, he said. “Looking at the big picture,” Dalton said, he chose a year of learning from Mike McCarthy in Texas, his home state.
Dalton holds no illusions about his role with the Cowboys.
“Dak (Prescott is) the starter on this team,” Dalton said, acknowledging he’s heard the buzz of a quarterback controversy. “Dak has played really well, and I knew the situation that I was coming into. … I felt like I could come in here and help this team win, obviously help Dak out as much as I can.
“Hopefully, this sets me up for my future.”
Prescott hasn’t missed a game since Dallas selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft. He has completed 65.8% of his pass attempts the last four seasons for 15,778 yards and 97 touchdowns to 36 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 21 regular-season touchdowns.
Last season, even as the Cowboys finished 8-8, Prescott threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Dalton completed 62% of his passes in nine seasons for 31,594 yards and 204 touchdowns to 118 interceptions. He’s confident his résumé—which includes three Pro Bowl berths—will augment the Cowboys' quarterback room. It doesn’t hurt that Dallas’ 2020 slate features Dalton’s longtime division, the AFC North. For Dalton, the focus of his upcoming season will be refining his game with an offensive-minded coach alongside a roster loaded with talent. No need, even, to relocate from his North Texas offseason home nearby his siblings and in-laws.
“This group of skill-position players is, I think, going to be pretty special,” Dalton said. “I feel like this could be a very explosive offense.”
Neither Prescott nor Dalton currently is under contract past 2020. But the $31.4 million exclusive franchise tag the Cowboys gave Prescott speaks to their investment in him. As recently as Wednesday on radio, Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones reiterated his belief that a long-term will get done.
The two sides have until July 15 to settle a disagreement largely centered on length of contract. Prescott wants no more than four years, a person familiar with negotiations told USA TODAY Sports. The person was granted anonymity due to the sensitivity of negotiations. The Cowboys want to lock up their franchise quarterback for at least five years. So long as the two sides reach a pact, the contract is expected to be among the most expensive in NFL history.
Should the Cowboys and Prescott not reach a long-term deal by July 15, Prescott will only be able to play the 2020 season on the tag. He already played 2019 on the final year of his rookie contract and posted his best statistical production of his career. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback said he would approach playing on a franchise tag the same way.
“I’m somebody that I’ve gambled on myself for my whole life,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports in January. “That’s kind of what it is. I’ve been doubted and told people they’re wrong.
“When you’re playing out a situation, when you’re playing out a contract, there’s no different mindset than that.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein