COMMENTARY | Andy Dalton is entering his third year with the Cincinnati Bengals and is looking across the AFC North to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco for inspiration in his pursuit of reaching an elite level of play.
Dalton says his goal next season is to prove to everyone he can play at an elite level. Here's what he told NFL Network in an interview when asked if he was elite:
"That's what I'm striving for, I'm striving to get where those guys (Eli Manning, Joe Flacco) are, especially for Joe (Flacco) last year with all the contract negotiations, all the stuff that was going on, he did everything he set out to do and was able to win the Super Bowl and prove that point. I'm taking that same mindset into this year and going to prove to everybody what type of player I am."
Dalton handled the question as best he could. He's entering a critical year in his career considering most NFL quarterbacks are given the boot after their third season if they don't flash enough to instill confidence in the coaching staff.
There's added pressure for Dalton with the front office in Cincinnati taking an offensive approach to the 2013 NFL draft with running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert.
Over the course of the last two seasons, Dalton has been fortunate enough to rely on elite receiver A.J. Green, but he's been missing a reliable secondary target and a running back that can create something out of nothing once he checks down to them.
Now Dalton has both. Eifert may be the reliable No. 2 option Dalton has desperately needed. Bernard is going to catch a lot of passes out of the backfield from Dalton within the confines of the offense. The peace of mind knowing Bernard is around as a safety valve could go a long way in helping Dalton eliminate his pocket presence issues.
It's hard to imagine Flacco would be labeled elite if he had not made such an impressive postseason run. In fact, Flacco and Dalton were eerily similar in the 2012 regular season.
Flacco threw the ball 531 times for 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Dalton threw the ball 529 times for 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Obviously statistics don't mean everything, but if Flacco deserves the elite label, Dalton may as well if he can put together a nice postseason run, right?
Slapping the elite label on any player doesn't mean much of anything anymore. Unfortunately for Dalton, he better get used to the question. He has a lot of questions to answer heading into his third season, and arbitrary titles describing his performance are things he'll be asked a lot.
The pieces are in place for Dalton to earn the pointless title. The front office in Cincinnati has done a stellar job of surrounding him with the right pieces and tailoring an offense to his needs. He's flashed a special ability at times before and the progress between his rookie and sophomore campaigns was encouraging in most regards.
So far the offseason questions are being handled properly by Dalton. The next step in the process is answering the questions on the field when it matters.
Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling
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