Why the Panthers picked Andy Dalton to mentor their new QB for this season and beyond

Tribune Content Agency

In a room full of notable quarterback minds, Andy Dalton stands out among the pack.

While Panthers head coach Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown both spent well over a decade in the NFL as players, and Reich won a Super Bowl during his notable coaching career, Dalton’s experience at the quarterback position is unrivaled.

Unlike McCown and Reich — who were mostly known for being high-profile backup quarterbacks during their playing days — Dalton started immediately as a rookie in Cincinnati in 2011. From there, he went to three Pro Bowls in nine seasons as a franchise quarterback in the AFC North.

Dalton has bounced around as a journeyman over the past three years since leaving Cincinnati, but he has still performed at a relatively high level, despite no longer being the face of a franchise.

His experience — which includes more starts, passing yardage and touchdowns than Reich’s and McCown’s careers combined — will be invaluable as the Panthers prepare to select a rookie quarterback with their recently acquired first overall pick.

“We brought in a guy that we want to say, ‘Hey, this guy is going to help support this quarterback for the next number of years,’ and let’s have that continuity and consistency,” Reich said Monday.

Dalton’s experience as a rookie starting quarterback is a perspective that isn’t shared by anyone on the coaching staff. That was one of the reasons why the Panthers signed the TCU alum to a two-year, $10 million contract last week.

Dalton knows what the incoming first overall pick is about to experience. He has felt the growing pains that come with being a young starting quarterback under the microscope.

He also knows what it’s like to take a step back and mentor a young quarterback in a similar situation. Just over a year ago, Dalton wrapped a one-season run in Chicago, where he mentored then-rookie quarterback Justin Fields through a turbulent NFL debut campaign.

Dalton’s intangibles and background make him an ideal peer-to-peer mentor for the Panthers’ hopeful long-term answer at the position.

“His leadership, his expertise — the person that he is,” GM Scott Fitterer said. “He was a guy that had to play as a rookie, so he can help, if it’s a rookie quarterback that’s going to be playing, he can share his experiences with him. Josh can share his experiences. Everything we’ve done is to basically support that position. We’ve added receivers, tight ends, running backs — all these positions — to put whoever that is at quarterback, the best opportunity for success.”

There’s no guarantee that the rookie quarterback will be ready to start in Week 1. And that’s okay, given the presence of Dalton.

Just last year, Dalton started 14 games for the Saints and went 6-8 with a beat-up roster around him.

Dalton gives the Panthers the option to take their time with the whomever they select with the first overall pick.

“You want to play the guy when he’s ready — when the team is ready,” Reich said. “It’s not just the player, it’s the team. We’ll evaluate that. I have thoughts in my mind about how I see that playing out, but I think we have to let it play out.”

Reich said Dalton has been a winner his entire life. And with an unknown prospect set to eventually lead the team, Dalton’s presence serves as premium insurance for a squad that is looking to win sooner rather than later.

“Make no mistake about it — first overall, Andy Dalton was brought here to win football games,” Reich said.”Because if you’re going to win a championship, it shows — you need a backup quarterback who is going to impact that.”

Whether he’s backing up a rookie or starting a handful of games in Carolina, Dalton has earned Reich’s trust through his 12 seasons of work in the NFL.

After throwing for 38,150 yards and 244 touchdowns, Dalton has done enough to prove that he can get it done when his number is called — no matter what his role calls for at the time.

Said Reich: “He’s all the things you’re looking for in a quarterback.”