What’s next for Andy Dalton? Cowboys backup quarterback becomes a free agent

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When Andy Dalton was cut by the Bengals on April 30, 2020, teams that needed a starting quarterback had already filled their opening. His timing will be better in 2021 in free agency.

Dalton ended his season as the Cowboys’ backup-turned-starter on Sunday with a Week 17 loss to the Giants that officially knocked Dallas out of the playoffs. Signed to a one-year contract before the season to support Dak Prescott, Dalton will become a free agent when the league’s new year begins in March. He could look for an opportunity to start elsewhere after stabilizing the Cowboys’ season in 2020.

“There is a lot to decide this off-season” Dalton told the media after the game on Sunday. “It’s my first time as a free agent when the league’s new year begins, so I’m going to go through the whole process and weigh all my options and see what I have.”

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If things had gone the way Dallas hoped, Dalton, 33, would have sat behind Prescott all season. But when Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, Dalton was put to work.

The former Bengals quarterback played near his career level, completing 64.1% of his passes, throwing for 2,169 yards and passing for 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Dallas went 4-4 in games started and ended by Dalton.

Dalton has left open the possibility of returning to Dallas next season. Assuming Prescott’s injury recovery goes well, the Cowboys will likely tag him as a franchise or extend him and he’ll be back as a starter. Dalton grew up in Texas and attended TCU, so there’s a certain appeal to the Cowboys.

“Like I said, I really enjoyed my time in Dallas,” Dalton said Sunday. “Just a good chance to play at home where I’ve had lots of family and friends who can come to games. I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had this year, with the ability to play and to just put tape in. We’ll see what happens in March.

While it’s not exactly clear how many teams will seek a starting quarterback in free agency, it’s not a super daunting list for Dalton (assuming Prescott reconnects with Dallas in some form). Other independent quarterbacks are Philip Rivers, Mitchell Trubisky, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor and Jameis Winston. If nothing else, Dalton would be a much sought-after replacement for a number of teams.

“I feel like I can play and I feel like I can help a team win,” Dalton said Sunday. “Hopefully with the film I’ve released this year people see it and appreciate me that way. Obviously I feel like I still have a lot of good football left, and we’ll see how this will all play out.

If Dalton’s Cowboys tenure is over, he’ll want to forget his last pass. With Dallas needing a touchdown to keep their playoff hopes alive, Dalton rushed to his left under pressure and threw a wobbly pass to the end zone. He was intercepted.

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