NFL: Dalton, Newton are in the wind, and they won't be the last

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/24822/" data-ylk="slk:Andy Dalton">Andy Dalton</a> bids farewell to Cincinnati. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Andy Dalton bids farewell to Cincinnati. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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The Bengals released Andy Dalton yesterday, a not-unexpected move given that they just acquired their quarterback of the future in Joe Burrow a week before. Conventional wisdom holds that Dalton could be headed for New England to keep the quarterback slot warm until Jarrett Stidham’s ready. But it's entirely possible Dalton might not leap right into another gig.

Dalton is the latest in a growing NFL trend: the suddenly unemployed starter. Fresh off several years running the show, they’re too talented (and expensive) to carry a clipboard as a backup, but they’re also too dented up for most teams to hand them the keys to a new franchise.

Cam Newton’s now in this club, and if you’re feeling really charitable, Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles are too. Jameis Winston would be here, but he took a ridiculously below-market-value contract — a deal worth five percent of his contract last year — to restart his NFL career in New Orleans. He won’t be the last to make the hard choice of sitting out or playing for a fraction of their prior deal.

This is a function of supply and demand. There are 32 starting quarterback jobs in the NFL, and only about 15 quarterbacks who could start for any team. The rest are, relatively speaking, interchangeable — do you really think Newton would be much worse under center than, say, Dwayne Haskins or Sam Darnold or Derek Carr? — but at the moment, Newton and Dalton are the ones left standing now that the music’s stopped.

The traditional model of “get a franchise quarterback, sign him forever” is showing cracks. Teams won't be as quick to throw down big-money, long-term Rodgers-Ryan-Roethlisberger contracts in the future ... with notable once-in-a-generation exceptions like Patrick Mahomes, of course.

In just the last few years, the Chiefs, Seahawks, Eagles and Rams have all reached, and in some cases won, the Super Bowl with a quarterback still on a cheap rookie contract. Why overpay a cap-swallowing vet when you can roll the dice with a hot rookie at a tenth of the cost?

Expect this trend to continue. Next year, assuming Dak Prescott gets an extension, Winston, Tyrod Taylor and Jacoby Brissett hit the market. Then, in 2022, the floodgates open: Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Mitch Trubisky, Josh Allen and Nick Foles will be at the end of their contracts, or waiting for clubs to pick up their options. That’s far too many quarterbacks for the jobs that will be available.

Affordability — most often, the affordability of youth — rules at the quarterback position, now more than ever. Aaron Rodgers, for one, now knows that from both sides of the equation.

There’ll always be a place for Canton-bound, Brady-and-Brees-level quarterbacks. Everybody else, though, better not get too comfortable in the job for too long.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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