According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, a night of sleep changed Zac Taylor's mind about his quarterback situation.
When the first-year coach's head hit the pillow after the Bengals' 16-10 loss to the Steelers, in his mind, rookie Ryan Finley
was still going to be the starter despite a rocky three-game stretch.
After a night to sleep on it, Taylor went back to veteran Andy Dalton
, who started the first eight games of this season.
On Monday, Taylor said Dalton gives the 0-11 Bengals the best chance to pick up their first win of 2019. That might be true. But it also signals that barring something unforeseen, the Bengals likely will use a first-round pick on a quarterback in the 2020 draft
When the Bengals went to Finley, a fourth-round pick in April, they wanted to know what he could provide. Taylor said gauging Finley's ability as an NFL starter was going to be difficult even if he lasted the rest of the season. But one thing is for certain: After three games, the Bengals had seen enough.
"Right now, we had to make this decision," Taylor said. "That's what we did, and we're going to move forward with it."
As a starter, Finley completed just 47.1 percent of his passes and had more turnovers (five) than touchdowns (two). According to NFL Next Gen, his only successful downfield target of 20-plus yards was a one-handed catch by Tyler Boyd
in Sunday's loss to the Steelers.
One of the primary objectives of Taylor's first season was determining who was going to be his long-term starting quarterback. Dalton, who has started 128 games in nine seasons, will be a free agent after the 2020 season. When he was benched after Week 8, Dalton said he wants to be a starter next season -- either in Cincinnati or somewhere else.
"I want to have an opportunity to play," Dalton said on Oct. 29. "I want to have an opportunity to be somewhere where I'm wanted. If that's here great, if that's not then we'll see."
Dalton will get his chance. Taylor said he doesn't plan on making another quarterback change for the rest of the season. When asked what Dalton needs to show to cement his long-term place on the roster, that wasn't anywhere near Taylor's mind.
"We just want to win," he said. "Just get us some wins."
But this season isn't just about winning. It's also about establishing a foundation for a floundering franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since 1991, a drought that hasn't been forgotten by the fan base. The Bengals are on pace (372,485) for their lowest home attendance since Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000.
The solution to both of those problems could hinge on a quarterback selected with the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
For what it's worth, Dalton said he didn’t think he’d make another start for the Bengals after Taylor couched the decision to start Finley as a way to look toward the future.
Dalton said he understood why Taylor felt that need, but that he was “bitter” when it first happened.
Over time, though, Dalton said he gained a “whole new perspective” and saw the benching as “just part of my story.” The next part of the story will be trying to get the Bengals their first win of the season and Dalton said he’s not thinking about anything beyond this year.
“I’m worried about this season, these last five games,” Dalton said at a press conference. “I have no idea what’s going to happen moving forward. I’m just worried about these next five.”
Dalton is under contract through the 2020 season, so he could wind up back with the Bengals next year. This year’s benching and the prospect of using a top draft pick on a quarterback may work against that, but this week’s change of plans is a reminder that there are many twists to come for the Bengals as they try to build a competitive team.
As ESPN's Mike Clay noted, though Dalton wasn't particularly good earlier this season, he did average 281.5 passing yards per game.
Clay went on to suggest Tyler Boyd
should benefit most from Dalton's promotion, as the oft-targeted slot receiver was 16th in fantasy points prior to Dalton's benching, but sits 28th in three games since. Boyd and Joe Mixon
are the only Bengals who should be considered for lineups, at least until A.J. Green