(Reuters) – The Cincinnati Bengals released long-time starting quarterback Andy Dalton on Thursday, clearing the way for first overall draft pick Joe Burrow to take over the reins at the struggling NFL team.
The decision to release Dalton, who owns a number of the franchise’s passing records, came a week after the Bengals selected Burrow with the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, which was held online to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“Andy will always hold a special place with this franchise, and I know that he holds a special place in my heart,” Bengals President Mike Brown said in a statement.
“This is a hard day for our club because we know and appreciate what a consummate professional Andy has always been. We respect and appreciate Andy, and we thank him.”
Dalton, who the Bengals selected 35th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, was a three-time Pro Bowler in Cincinnati and is the team’s all-time leader in completions, touchdown passes, passer rating and 300-yard passing games.
Dalton, 32, began his NFL career by leading the Bengals to five consecutive playoff berths, a run that included AFC North division titles in 2013 and 2015.
But the Bengals, who have not made the NFL playoffs since the 2015 season and are coming off a league-worst 2-14 campaign, appear ready to hand the starting quarterback job to Burrow.
The 23-year-old Burrow won the Heisman Trophy as the best collegiate football player last December and led Louisiana State University to a national championship the next month.
Burrow, who left Ohio State as a graduate transfer after the 2017 season, is fresh off one of the best seasons in college football history as he led the country in passing yards, total offense and completion percentage, and set an NCAA record with 60 touchdown passes in 15 starts.
In the national title game, Burrow threw five touchdown passes and ran in for another score.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Ed Osmond)