Incumbent Andy Dalton welcomed three new faces in the team's meeting room this year. Veteran quarterback Jason Campbell, who has never had a season where he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, signed as a free agent. Cincinnati will become his fourth team in four years, following the Oakland Raiders ('11), Chicago Bears ('12) and Cleveland Browns ('13).
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was snagged in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft, and Matt Scott was claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Cincinnati's depth chart at quarterback appears easy enough to project: Dalton, Campbell and McCarron... because we're assuming that they'll keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster this year -- breaking a 3-year trend dating back to when the league increased the active gameday roster and abolished the third-quarterback rule.
Is there a quarterback competition here?
Our gut says no. Why would there be? Cincinnati has their preferred veteran backup (who connects well with the team's offensive coordinator) with a rookie as the team's third-string quarterback. Usually they'd just drop the rook on the team's practice squad, but until the world sees McCarron success or flail, it's a useless prediction.
If he thrives, everyone will want him and thus, won't clear waivers for the practice squad. If he's disastrous (or at the very least shows why he was drafted in the fifth round), he'll probably clear waivers. Third-string quarterback or practice squad. That's the storyline for A.J. McCarron. Not what you imagined last May, is it?
Could there be a competition?
Sure, but keep in mind that Dalton is safe. An unchecked thought that questions Dalton's role in 2014 is like saying, "Michael Bay will write the best character-driven move in the history of movies." It's so improbable that believing it borders on insanity. Maybe they are the same people that bought Akili Smith jerseys, or told their buddies in Detroit, the turf is pretty forgiving. Whatever. It's irrelevant.
Beyond that, the appearance of competition at quarterback doesn't favor much of a storyline this year. Provided Campbell doesn't fall apart, he should claim the backup quarterback gig (and perhaps give Dalton a good role model... if you believe in such things). Backup quarterback is usually a position reserved for veterans; who can jump into the game without much preparation... especially for Campbell who played for Jackson in Oakland.
Though unlikely, it would seem reasonable that if McCarron finds his inner-Unitas while Campbell depreciates, their roles could be reversed. It would be good to view this team with a little more fluidity based on performances and not friendships or salary commitments.
In the end, we see Campbell securing the position quite easily while McCarron is given freedom to develop as a third-string quarterback at his own pace... maybe even on the practice squad. If Dalton is allowed to walk after this season, it would make for an interesting offseason next year... especially if McCarron silently develops into a reasonably good quarterback throughout the season.