Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the only position the team would not consider with the No. 9 overall pick was quarterback.
That will not be the case when the Bengals pick 12th this year.
“All options are on the table,” director of player personnel Duke Tobin said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
But regardless of whether the Bengals draft a quarterback 12th overall or with one of their other 10 picks or sign one in free agency, Tobin said Andy Dalton is the guy heading in to 2018.
“We feel very good about Andy as our starting quarterback,” Tobin said. “We’ve seen him play at the top of the league. We’ve got to support him better. He’s got to do some things better. He knows that.
“But you don’t have to look very far around the league to see teams that don’t have a guy and what that does to them,” Tobin continued. “Do we feel good about Andy Dalton? Yeah. He’s in the prime of his career and we feel good about him.”
Even with the team throwing its support behind Dalton, the expected departure of backup AJ McCarron in free agency and third-stringer Jeff Driskel’s broken left (non-throwing) arm have the Bengals in the market for a quarterback this offseason.
But with three years remaining on Dalton’s contract, which looks more and more club friendly with each subsequent deal signed around the league, the idea of the Bengals taking a quarterback in the first round seem far-fetched. Even targeting one with their three picks in Rounds 2-3 seems unlikely given that the Bengals will be slotting whomever they land as a backup.
“We will look at the unrestricted market, the guys who have been released,” Tobin said. “We will look at the college game. There will be a lot options available to us. It could be we sign a veteran, and he’s the guy. It could be that there’s a competition for the second guy. We are not restricting any options for backup quarterback.”
“Driskel has progressed pretty well for us,” Tobin said. “Unfortunately he got hurt at the end of the year. He’s still going through the rehab process with that. How that comes out is a little bit too be determined and we’ll see as the offseason program gets going what his status will be.
“You are talking about a guy with tremendous physical talent,” he continued. “We saw big growth from Year 1 to Year 2 with him in understanding the offense and making decisions and so on. I don’t put any limits on Driskel at all.”
Tobin spoke for 15 minutes at the podium with the national media before spending 22 minutes with local reporters.
During his time at the podium, he was asked if the team ever considered playing McCarron ahead of Dalton last year.
“The answer is ‘no,’” he said. “We feel very confident and comfortable with Andy Dalton as our starting quarterback. We felt good if AJ had to go in the game. But we feel good about what Andy’s done. The sky’s the limit for Andy in our opinion. We did not look at starting AJ over Andy.”
Tobin also touched on the impending free agency for tight end Tyler Eifert and Russell Bodine, but he declined to comment on whether the team plans to pick up the fifth-year option or tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for 2019 or the club option on cornerback Adam Jones in 2018.
The decision on Jones must be made by March 14, while the team has until May 3 to make the call on Ogbuehi.
As for Eifert, who will be an unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Bengals prior to March 14, Tobin said, “When he’s been healthy, has been a difference-making player for us. The biggest component of it, is that he’s got to get on the field and do it. He knows that more than anybody.
“We’ll see what the future holds in free agency,” Tobin continued. “It’s hard for us to predict who else is going to be a player in that and what ultimately the contract will look like. My guess is there will be interest around the league in Tyler Eifert. But we’ll see as it goes as to what that interest level is and what Tyler’s thoughts are. That will matter as much as anything.”
And on Bodine, who has started all 64 games since the team drafted him in the fourth round in 2014:
“As Pete Brown said, one of his favorite statements was ‘The best ability is availability,’ and he’s been available to us for sure, and that’s valuable,” Tobin said. “We pay these guys to pay and perform and he’s done that. Do I think he’s tapped out potentially? No. I think he can get better. I think he can improve. He’s still a young player.
“I think he would admit there’s things he can do better,” he added. “And we’ll have a little different philosophy up front with the new offensive line coach (Frank Pollack), and how that meshes with him and his thoughts on that will play into whether he’s back or not.”