It took a year and a half, but following a 2018 NFL Draft in which three of the four teams in the AFC North drafted a quarterback early, every team in the division is now starting a rookie or second-year player at the position. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the obvious caveat with Ben Roethlisberger on the Reserve/Injured List, but at least for 2019, the division is being manned entirely by neophytes under center.
The last remaining veteran was Andy Dalton for the Cincinnati Bengals, but with the team entering its bye with an astonishing 0-8 record, first-year head coach Zac Taylor made the division to pull the trigger and go with his guy.
That guy would be rookie Ryan Finley, a rookie fourth-round pick out of NC State and a former teammate of Jaylen Samuels. Finley, who will turn 25 the day after Christmas, has not yet thrown a pass this season.
He did put up good numbers for Taylor in the preseason, however, completing 47 of 64 pass attempts—a completion percentage of 73.4—for 414 yards with three touchdowns passes to one interception, with a quarterback rating of 99.3.
Dalton, a former second-round draft pick in 2011, was an instant starter for the Bengals that year and beyond, where he paired with A.J. Green, who was the fourth-overall pick at wide receiver that same year. The two grew and developed together and helped the team reach the postseason in five consecutive years, but failed to ever win a game.
After three consecutive losing seasons—and on the verge of a fourth—Dalton is in the final year of his contract, and the season is already lost, so Taylor wants to see what he has in Finley. His job security is what matters to him and he knows the ninth-year veteran is not his meal ticket into the future.
“Not an easy decision to make”, Taylor said “He’s put his heart and soul into getting this thing right, and the hard thing now is, when you’re 0-8 and you make a quarterback switch, people tend to look at the quarterback and say, ‘he’s the problem’. That’s the furthest thing from the truth”.
Yet he still decided to bench the Pro Bowler in favor of a mid-round rookie with no experience. “We’re going to start Ryan and move forward with it”, he continued. “You never want to put a timetable on these things, but we need to see a rookie, it takes more than one game to figure out what you’ve got there. So we’re going to give him a chance to prove that”.
Taylor added that the timing of the decision had a lot to do with the team entering the bye week. They are in the dead center of their season, halfway through the games, now with a week off, so for the second half of the year, they will be helmed by Finley.