Andy Dalton views what figures to be just one season of backing up Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys as essentially halftime of his career.
The 32-year-old former Cincinnati starter doesn't expect to play as the insurance policy for a two-time Pro Bowler who hasn't missed a game in his first four seasons, even though Prescott technically isn't under contract because he hasn't signed the $31 million deal that goes with the franchise tag.
At the same time, Dalton doesn't think his days as a No. 1 quarterback in the NFL are over following his release from the Bengals a week after they drafted Joe Burrow first overall. That's why Dalton is calling this the second half of his career.
The beginning of the end for Dalton in Ohio came when first-year coach Zac Taylor benched him for three games midway through last year's 2-14 season, a move that shocked Dalton and his longtime teammates.
Dalton, who led the Bengals to the playoffs five straight years but lost all four of his postseason starts before missing the last appearance with an injury, was let go with a year remaining on the $96 million, six-year extension that followed his rookie deal as a second-round pick.
“I believe I’m a starter in this league, and I feel like I could bring a lot to the table,” Dalton said Wednesday, two days after Dallas signed the three-time Pro Bowler to a one-year contract with $3 million guaranteed and a value up to $7 million.
“I understand the market’s going to be a little bit different next offseason. So for me, it’s just, I’m trying to set myself up and put myself in the best position for the second half of my career.”
New Orleans offers the best example for why Dalton thinks he could get another chance to start after a year as a backup, and why he would think he’s only halfway through his career in his early 30s with already nine seasons as a starter.
Teddy Bridgewater backed up Drew Brees on a pair of one-year deals with the Saints before cashing in on a $63 million, three-year contract with Carolina this offseason. Brees, meanwhile, is 41 and preparing for his 15th season as the New Orleans starter.
“I feel like I have a lot of good football left,” Dalton said. “For me, I have to think about the next 10 years. Is it going to be 10 years? I don’t know. But that’s the mindset I have, is put myself in the best position for my career.”
While ensuring that he won't start unless Prescott gets injured, Dalton won't have to find a new home. He already has one in Dallas and has also lived in Fort Worth, where he led TCU to its only undefeated season in the past 81 years in 2010.
Dalton was born and raised in the Houston area, so other than pro football seasons up north, Texas has always been home. This time it's more permanent — for a year at least.
“I wouldn’t have thought that this would’ve happened a couple months ago, but for me, I’m excited,” Dalton said. “And I know my family’s excited. Everybody’s happy to be back in Texas.”
Cowboys executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones sometimes thinks in analogies to explain his team's roster moves.
In this case, the comparison is a familiar one from an NFC East rival, with Jones bringing up Nick Foles, a six-year veteran at the time, leading Philadelphia to its only Super Bowl title after Carson Wentz injured a knee in 2017.
“Dak's the quarterback of our franchise for now and for many years to come,” Jones said in a radio interview this week. “You lay your head better on your pillow at night knowing that you have someone like Andy Dalton who's led teams to the playoffs and had winning records.”
Dalton knew from the outset what signing with the Cowboys meant.
“Fortunately for me, I’ve been around a lot of great backup quarterbacks, guys that have helped me out,” he said. "I’m going to try to be the biggest asset to this team, try to help out this offense, help out Dak, help out everybody as much as I can.
“It’s a different perspective for me, since I’ve been a starter the last nine years. But I understand the position I’m coming into and the role I’m going to play.”
Let the halftime show begin.