For most of Andy Dalton’s career with the Bengals, we’ve rarely seen his backup get meaningful snaps in a regular-season game.
But when Dalton did get injured last year, AJ McCarron came in and and helped a then 8-2 Bengals team make it to the finish line at 12-4 to win the AFC North, and he came close to helping them win a playoff game as well.
That brief stretch of games in which we saw McCarron last year was enough that his stock is quite high in terms of NFL teams looking for a new quarterback. At least, that’s what ESPN seems to think with their ranking of the best quarterbacks who could change teams in 2017. McCarron comes in at No. 2 on the list, behind only Jimmy Garoppolo of the New England Patriots.
2. AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals
Signed through: 2017 | Chances for change: Low
The Bengals typically are not wheelers and dealers. McCarron played well enough in limited exposure to make a positive impression. McCarron has completed 102 of 160 passes (63.8 percent) with seven touchdowns, three picks and a 53.0 Total QBR score.
"I think he will stay there," a personnel director said. "That is Cincinnati. They are not a big trade team. I think they like him and someone would have to blow their socks off with a pick."
An agent predicted McCarron would follow the same path Kirk Cousins followed in Washington, biding his time behind a drafted starter.
"We do not know what Andy Dalton will be a couple years from now," this agent said. "The Bengals could franchise-tag McCarron in the fifth year if they wanted."
Other quarterbacks mentioned in the article include (in order) Tony Romo, Mike Glennon, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Foles and Brian Hoyer.
As that list shows, it’s likely to be a fairly barren market for quarterbacks in the coming offseason, making young backups like McCarron very attractive targets for teams wanting a new signal caller.
But are the Bengals willing to part ways with their backup quarterback?
There’s the thought that McCarron may sign a big deal as a free agent in 2018 that net the Bengals a nice compensatory pick...in 2019. That’s a long way off though, and most of the current roster outside of Dalton and A.J. Green could be gone by then, especially if we’re talking about the pick actually developing and becoming a solid contributor, which may not be until 2021-2022.
In other words, if the Bengals want to get the most value out of McCarron while adding to their current roster, which clearly has the potential to contend with the right additions
and head coach, trading McCarron this offseason and getting a pick or player in his place now opposed to in 2019, seems like the smart play.
And let’s face it, while having McCarron as a backup is nice, it was clear when he played that his game is too different from Dalton’s for this offense to operate as efficiently. This offense is built around Dalton’s pre-snap mastery and quick-passing game.
McCarron is more of a typical drop-back passer who reads the defense and doesn’t do as many quick-hitters, so even though he’s a good quarterback from what we’ve seen, he’s not exactly the best fit in the Bengals’ offense based on how it’s built around Dalton.