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Marcus Musings: The Bengals, Tom Brady, Andy Dalton and the power of perception

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts with Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals following a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts with Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals following a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

Credit: Billie Weiss

Credit: Billie Weiss

The coronavirus might have caused many games to be canceled, but sports news has charged on unabated. And so are the sports opinions... 

  • It's amazing how quickly perception can change as the Bengals went from striking out on multiple other big-name free agents (looking of swinging, a strikeout is a strikeout) to suddenly having something to feel good about going into a draft that will be crucial to determining if they can get good by the end of Joe Burrow's rookie contract or not.
  • It seems in the case of both signings they are getting a guy who is someone they've been waiting on for a few years to turn into a standout. Reader actually is the guy many expected Andrew Billings to be when he was drafted: a stout, disruptive man in the middle who makes Geno Atkins' life easier. The irony is even thicker with Waynes, who like Darqueze Dennard is a first-round draft pick who before that was an under-recruited All-Big Ten cornerback from Michigan State. Waynes wasn't as far under the radar as Dennard coming out of high school, but neither of them were projected to be NFL players when they were in high school. While Dennard did some good things as a slot corner for the Bengals, he never came close to delivering true first-round value as an outside cornerback. Waynes does that and hopefully stabilizes half the field anyway as the team tries to rebuild a unit that fell off a cliff two years ago.
  • Like many observers (and apparently the team based on who they reportedly pursued), I still believe the Bengals need a lot of help at linebacker, but like the Bengals I also think this is a position that can be fixed more cheaply than some others. So striking out on guys like Joe Schobert might not be a disaster in the long run — especially if Reader and Atkins gobble up blockers up front.
  • Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay is…. pretty weird, right?
  • It certainly does the sports media a great service by providing multiple meaningful narratives, so I'll give him that. He is past his prime, but seeing what he has left and what kind of impact he can have on a new franchise even beyond throwing touchdown passes should be pretty fascinating.
  • Meanwhile, what kind of coach is Bill Belichick without a Hall of Fame quarterback? This is one of those sports talk topics that is both low-hanging fruit and even valid, a rare double these days.
  • I tend to think if I had to pick one, it would be Belichick. Yes, Brady expanded his options greatly, but Belichick was still the guy who made (or at least oversaw the making of) the plans on both sides of the ball. Regardless, this was a pretty symbiotic relationship, especially if you look how it evolved. Early on, Brady was valuable but more along for the ride as the Patriots won three Super Bowls with great defense and an offense that was more efficient than explosive. They muddled through the middle part of his career before an amazing five-year run that included three more Super Bowl wins and were won mostly on Brady's back.
  • Would either of them have won as much without each other? The most obvious answer is no, but Andy Dalton ending up in New England would make me reconsider. If that thing a shocking number of people seem to think makes sense actually happens, I'll have to give Brady a lot more credit because there's no way a smart football organization would look at the Bengals quarterback and think he is a key to winning anything of consequence at this stage in his career. I mean, looking back now he probably never was that kind of player, but at least six or seven years ago it was still in question.
  • With that in mind, I continue to find the almost universal belief that Dalton and the Patriots make a sensible match baffling. It defies every other narrative around both quarterbacks. For the last several years the consensus was New England lacked weapons, but the Patriots won anyway thanks mostly to Brady's greatness (and Belichick). Meanwhile pretty much everybody is in agreement Dalton can't win without great players around him. So… how does matching them up make any sense again? It's insane — unless ol' Bill decided to tank for Trevor Lawrence without everyone noticing.
  • In reality, Dalton is more likely the opposite of what they need... unless they are trying to get seven wins out of a five-win roster. If they have a playoff-caliber roster, why would they want to put it in the hands of a quarterback who has never shown he can do anything in the postseason?
  • The real market for Dalton probably dried up Wednesday when the Bears acquired Nick Foles. All along I've thought Chicago was the only place that made sense for Dalton, who isn't better than any of the established quarterbacks in the league or taking snaps away from anyone with a recent first-rounder still trying to find his way. Except Mitchell Trubisky, who might still turn out to be what the Bears were expecting or might hold back a playoff-caliber roster (I'd bet on the latter). They probably don't want to wait around another full season to find out so carrying a backup who could still be a starter makes more sense than it does for most teams still evaluating a first-rounder. Trubisky being on his rookie deal also makes paying Foles more than $15 million this season easier while Dalton at $17 million is probably too expensive to be a sure backup for most teams. Beyond that, Foles and Dalton are similar players with one big difference: Foles has played well in the playoffs (winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles) while Dalton has not.

“Marcus Musings” is a semi-regular feature here at the blog. While most of our other coverage is concentrated on news and analysis, this is a place to share opinions on various stories permeating the sports world and (hopefully) have some fun. Have your own thoughts? Send them along to marcus.hartman@coxin.com or find us on Twitter or Facebook.  

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