Andy Dalton's football career may be in limbo, but his day-to-day reality during this surreal stage of life is predictable and unwavering. Other than when the Cincinnati Bengals' soon-to-be-displaced starting quarterback is working out in the backyard of his Dallas-area home, you can be sure his waking hours are spent assisting his wife, JJ, in mitigating the madness inspired by their three children under the age of 6.
While sons Noah (5) and Nash (3), and 15-month-old daughter Finley, are confined to the family's residence in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suffice it to say that they're not exactly sheltering in place.
"Oh, it's nonstop at this house," Dalton said Thursday via telephone as he chased Finley across the lawn. "It's entertaining, that's for sure -- you never know what's gonna happen with this crew. My daughter's the toughest. As soon as the bathroom's open, she's going to the toilet and trying to get into it. And she controls her big brothers; there's no question she's the boss around here.
"We know we're in the thick of it. The scariest is when the house is quiet. It's like, 'What's going wrong right now?' "
All has been quiet in recent weeks regarding Dalton's potential relocation to another NFL city, with next week's draft looming as a potential clarifying event. The Bengals, for whom Dalton has entered each of his nine professional seasons as the team's unquestioned starter, own the No. 1 overall pick and are expected to select former LSU star Joe Burrow, who threw an FBS-record 60 touchdown passes in 2019.
Conventional wisdom is that the team will trade Dalton and, if unable to find a suitor, release the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Yet it's also possible that they'll try to retain Dalton, 32, who is due $17.7 million in the final year of his contract in 2020 (he'd likely be asked to restructure the non-guaranteed deal to lower the salary-cap number) and could serve as an insurance policy given the unique challenges posed by this highly unusual offseason.
"I truly believe they want what's best for me, but I understand it's a business, and you know how that goes," Dalton said. "With the first pick, if they take a quarterback like everyone expects, that could trigger something. There's even a scenario where I go back there."
That sentiment was echoed by Bengals coach Zac Taylor. "Everything's on the table, and that's the truth," Taylor said Thursday night. "Given the circumstances going on in the world right now, it doesn't make sense not to keep our options open. [Bringing him back is] something to consider."
Said Dalton: "It's a different year, with different challenges. You never know."
No one knows what it's like to get thrown into the fray without the benefit of an offseason program better than Dalton, who nine years ago experienced something similar to the scenario that this year's rookie quarterbacks will likely encounter. Drafted during a lockout that lasted until late July, when players and owners agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement, the second-round pick out of TCU was handed the starting job after incumbent Carson Palmer failed to report to training camp, telling the Bengals (who would trade him to the Raiders in late October) he'd rather retire than continue to play for the organization.
The beginning of that season was unsurprisingly choppy, but Dalton finished with a flourish, guiding the team to the first of five consecutive playoff berths.
"If you went back and looked at those first preseason games, it was pretty ugly," Dalton recalled. "It might not have looked like we were gonna make the playoffs. But we started hitting our stride late in the year, and shoot, I even made it to the Pro Bowl. So yeah, I've experienced the no-offseason thing. That was a whirlwind of a year."
Conversely, Dalton's 2019 season was a bit of a drag. After the Bengals wheezed to an 0-8 start, Taylor, a rookie coach, benched Dalton and replaced him with rookie Ryan Finley, a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft. Cincinnati lost three more games to fall to 0-11 before Taylor turned back to Dalton, who led the Bengals to a 22-6 victory over the New York Jets. Dalton retained his starting job for the rest of the season, closing out a 2-14 campaign with a 33-23 win over the Cleveland Browns.
"It wasn't the ideal situation -- being benched in the middle of the year, and then being brought back in," Dalton said. "I didn't agree with [the benching], obviously, and I voiced that. But it was one of those things where I said to myself, 'If it does come back to me, I'm gonna try to make the most of it.' "
Now, as he waits to find out where he'll play next season, Dalton is doing his best to remain positive. He thought he might be traded last month at the start of the league year, but has since settled into what he calls a "dead period" -- with activity likely to heat up as the draft approaches.
In a normal year, a quarterback-needy team might already have swung a deal for Dalton. This offseason, however, featured a saturated quarterback market with almost unprecedented fluidity, headlined by living legend Tom Brady's departure from the New England Patriots. Along with Dalton, who could be released after the draft if no trade partner is found, longtime starters and free agents Cam Newton (the 2015 NFL MVP) and Jameis Winston (who led the league in passing yards in 2019) remain available.
Asked if he still considers himself to be a starting-caliber quarterback, Dalton said, "Absolutely. (But) I understand the situation I'm in. This year was a different year with all the quarterbacks available in free agency, including Tom Brady. You see some of the guys that are still out there, like Cam and Jameis. This has just been a different year, also, with what's going on in the world. There's more going on than football."
As he hunkers down like the majority of Americans, Dalton is doing his best not to obsess over where he might end up. The Jacksonville Jaguars -- who hired his former Bengals offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, to serve in that role in January -- have interest in signing Dalton if the price is right. Dalton would likely be viewed as a backup plan should things not go smoothly with Gardner Minshew, a 2019 sixth-round pick who emerged as the starter last season. Former Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese currently works in that capacity for Washington, a team whose quarterback depth chart includes Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen.
The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers have also been mentioned as possible destinations for Dalton, who could also end up signing a one-year deal elsewhere as a backup to an established starter, with an eye toward free agency next year.
"From the beginning of this I've been open with everybody in Cincinnati, and there's an open line of communication," Dalton said. "And I'll find out more. I'll have conversations with (Bengals owner Mike) Brown and (player personnel director) Duke Tobin and Zac before the draft, just to get a sense of where they're at."
And during the draft, when he theoretically could be traded at any time?
"I'll just be hanging out at the house, like everybody else," Dalton said. "I'll have it on, but I'm not gonna be too dialed into it."
For what it's worth, Dalton looked exceptionally dialed in earlier this week during a throwing session in his backyard, a video of which he posted on his Instagram feed. With the help of Noah and Nash, who retrieved and tossed him balls, Dalton zipped a series of tight spirals over the boys' heads and into a net with tremendous accuracy, with JJ capturing the moment on her phone.
"It was only one take, too!" Dalton said.
While holing up with his family and pondering his professional fate during a global health crisis, the deeply spiritual Dalton insists he's taking it all in stride.
"This year's different, with no offseason, and I understand that," Dalton said. "I obviously feel I bring value to a team, not only because of my abilities, but because of everything I've learned and experienced.
"It's easy to stress out about your situation, to say, 'What if it's this team or that team?' But there's no reason to try to What If? yourself to death. I'm just going to sit back and let this happen. My wife and I were talking (Wednesday) night, and we have such a peace about everything. We're gonna be where God wants us to be, and it's gonna work out exactly how it's supposed to."