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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
John Sigler

Saints free agent report card: Was Andy Dalton a good veteran signing?

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Was Andy Dalton a good veteran signing in 2022? The New Orleans Saints didn’t get where they wanted to go this year after naming him their starter, but they didn’t sign him with the expectation that he’d lead them to the playoffs, either. The offense sputtered, stopped, and started without much cohesiveness under his direction. At the same time, it wasn’t designed with him in mind, and injuries to key players like Michael Thomas, Trevor Penning, and Jarvis Landry impacted what they were able to do once he was in the lineup.

We’ve already recapped the 2022 free agent report cards for other signings like Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye. Let’s break down Dalton’s first season in black and gold:

Free agent contract

Dalton signed a one-year, fully-guaranteed contract valued at $3 million last year which lined up with similarly-valued veteran backups around the league; quarterbacks like Geno Smith, Joe Flacco, and Case Keenum (all at $3.5 million per year) as well as Colt McCoy ($3.25 million), Nick Foles ($3.1 million), Blaine Gabbert ($2.25 million), and Trevor Siemian and Chase Daniel ($2 million). It’s a bargain for a starting quarterback, but the vision wasn’t for Dalton to lead the offense for much of the season when he signed in 2022.

Snap counts

Dalton took 736 snaps on offense (69.9% of the total) after being named the starter in Week 4. He started all 14 games in which he made an appearance. However, he didn’t play any snaps on special teams with punter Blake Gillikin serving as the holder on the field goal unit.

Season stats

Dalton completed 252 of his 378 pass attempts (66.7%) to gain 2,871 yards, scoring 18 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions — that’s an average of 205.1 yards per game, his highest since the 2019 season. His passer rating of 95.2 was his best since 2015, and he averaged a healthy 6.54 adjusted net yards per pass attempt (which accounts for touchdown passes, sacks, and interceptions); for context, that ties Geno Smith and sits just behind Trevor Lawrence at 6.66.

But Dalton also fumbled 5 times. The Saints lost a couple of games because he couldn’t protect the football. He also didn’t offer the red-zone efficiency or big-play potential that other quarterbacks use to outweigh their negative moments.

Pro Football Focus grade

Dalton’s 2022 season was really well-received by the analysts at PFF, who awarded him with an overall grade of 82.1 buoyed by his passing grade of 81.0 — which was fifth-best among quarterbacks this season. He also rated out above-average on rushing attempts (64.4) and on run-blocking plays (63.6), though his 3 penalties were his most since 2019.

Season recap, future outlook

Dalton was about what we expected him to be. He established a baseline of mostly-competent quarterback play but didn’t elevate the talent around him, and he left a lot of meat on the bone in not getting the ball to his best playmakers more often; Alvin Kamara saw an uptick in his receiving numbers with Dalton under center, but not by much, and not consistently. There were also too many procedural penalties for an offense run by a quarterback with Dalton’s experience.

With that said, it would be worth re-signing Dalton for 2023 if the team has the right vision for him. He would be a good resource for a younger quarterback to draw upon as a mentor, and potentially to bridge the gap until a youngster is ready to start. You can win a couple of games with him starting in an emergency. But he’s not the future of this franchise, and the Saints can’t afford to think otherwise.

Season grade

This is tough. The Saints didn’t get where they wanted to go with Dalton leading the offense, and that has to weigh into his final grade. At the same time, he was a step up from what we saw out of Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill, and Ian Book a year earlier. At the end of the day, Dalton met expectations as a mid-level backup though he didn’t rise to the occasion after being named the starter. Considering how little resources were invested in him, we’ll grade his 2022 season with a C-plus. It certainly could have gone worse, but this wasn’t good enough to celebrate.

Grade: C-plus

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