CINCINNATI -- Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals put their money where their mouth is for quarterback Andy Dalton, who signed a six-year contract Monday that could be worth as much as $115 million.
However, Dalton must meet the requirements of numerous incentive clauses to get most of that money because the deal guarantees him only $17 million.
For the past few months, people throughout the Bengals organization -- owner and president Mike Brown, head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, players in the locker room -- talked about how much they are convinced Dalton is the man who will lead the franchise to its first playoff victory since Jan. 6, 1991.
"We're betting big on him because we believe in him," Brown said as the deal was announced Monday. "We're looking forward to the future with Andy."
Even so, the Bengals cleverly hedged their bet.
As large as the contract appears to be on the surface, details of the deal outline a team-friendly, incentive-laden contract that has a base value of $96 million over six years.
As polarizing as Dalton is in Cincinnati -- he was greeted by a banner urging the team not to sign him on the first day of training camp -- Bengals fans and ownership no doubt hope the quarterback earns every dollar of the possible $115 million.
That is because among the escalators reportedly are $500,000 for each year remaining on the deal if Dalton plays in at least 80 percent of the snaps and takes the team to the conference championship game, and an extra $1.5 million for each remaining year if he plays 80 percent of the snaps and leads the Bengals to a Super Bowl championship.
In addition to a $4 million roster bonus on the third day of the 2015 league year and annual $200,000 workout bonuses, Dalton has the ability to earn a base salary of $10.5 million in 2016, $13.1 million in 2017, $13.7 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019, and $17.5 million in 2020.
"The quarterback position is paid well in the NFL," Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said. "There are a lot of deals out there, and a lot of talk about which ones are most relevant and how. But I think we did a lot of good discussions on all the relative points. I think in the end we came up with something we think should work well for both sides and that we should both be happy with."
The Bengals are hoping Dalton's career, which began with him assuming the starting job the day he was drafted in 2011, continues the arc that saw him post the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in team history with a 30-18 record (.625) and set single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,293) and touchdowns (33) while leading the Bengals to three consecutive playoff appearances.
Only Dalton, Joe Flacco, Pat Haden, Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar quarterbacked teams to the playoffs in each of their first three years in the league. The glaring difference is that all of the others won at least one of their first three postseason games. Dalton is 0-3 with one touchdown pass and six interceptions, three of which came in a horrible performance in January that led to a 27-10 home wild-card loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Despite Dalton's January failings, the organization put all of its chips on No. 14.
"I'm so thankful to be in this position," Dalton said. "I'm really excited about the future and excited about this team that we have -- great ownership, great coach and a great team -- and I'm looking forward for the next seven years to be a part of this team and to be a part of this city."
A third side in the equation -- Dalton's teammates -- liked the deal as well.
"We're excited for him," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "The guy deserved it. He's put in for the work. He's had a lot of success here, even though you can go around town and probably not realize that. I'm not real sure what fans are thinking."
Wide receiver A.J. Green added, "He's a great player. The contract he just got, you can't be an average player and get something like that. He gets too much crap about, 'We're not winning the playoff games,' but we all put a hand in that."
Cornerback Leon Hall echoed those sentiments.
"I like Andy. I like him a lot," he said. "I'm a little biased, but it's hard to deny his success. Obviously, his position gets a lot of scrutiny, and being one and done in the playoffs the last few years doesn't help that, but I just think what he's done since he's gotten here until this day, regardless of how the playoffs have gone, you can't really complain."