When Andy Dalton went down with an injury, the Cincinnati Bengals' hopes for holding onto the AFC North were on the shoulders of AJ McCarron at quarterback. While he wasn't putting up the MVP-caliber performances we saw from Dalton throughout the season, McCarron held his own and did a commendable job. He went 2-2 as a starter, and during the regular season he racked up 854 passing yards with a completion percentage over 66%, along with six touchdowns and only two interceptions. During his run as starter in 2015, McCarron proved he is a capable quarterback who has the potential to be a starter at some point in his career.
But what if he doesn't want to wait? It's obvious that Cincinnati would not bench Dalton for McCarron, and rightfully so, but there are several teams looking for a new starting quarterback. In fact, one team that might be the most interested in McCarron resides not too far north of Cincinnati. The Cleveland Browns are desperately in need of a quarterback after their issues with Johnny Manziel, and the offensive coordinator that directed McCarron, Hue Jackson, would become his head coach if McCarron ended up in Cleveland. Between the familiar coach, staying in the division, and the likelihood of McCarron getting the starting spot more quickly, Cleveland could be a desired destination for the Bengals backup.
But that's not the only team that could be looking to attain McCarron. The Houston Texans are another team looking to upgrade their quarterback position. After a horrific 30-0 Wild Card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, a game in which Brian Hoyer threw four interceptions, you could see why the Texans would have their sights set on a new man under center. Houston already has some pieces in place, such as their defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who led the league in sacks with 17.5 in 2015, but the quarterback position is one of the places they need a change. McCarron to Houston would be a trade that makes sense on Houston's end, and it would give McCarron a chance at starting much sooner than he would in Cincinnati.
How likely is it that the Bengals would be willing to part ways McCarron? They would need to get a high-value return in order to even consider it. As the Bengals now know first hand, having a backup quarterback who can hold his own is priceless in the NFL. Look no further than the Dallas Cowboys who would have loved to have someone like McCarron behind Tony Romo this year, or the Denver Broncos, who won the Super Bowl with the help of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler keeping the offense afloat in the regular season without Peyton Manning. Trading away McCarron could give Cincinnati some added depth at other positions, but it would hurt their depth at quarterback, which could really come back to bite them down the road.
So how likely is it that McCarron actually would want to go somewhere else? There's no doubt that it could jumpstart his career. Going to Houston or Cleveland would put him in great position to be a starter. Not to mention, in Houston he'd have DeAndre Hopkins to throw to. But those teams are not likely to be better than Cincinnati in 2016. Depending on how well Cincinnati does in free agency, they will once again field one of the deepest, most talented teams top to bottom in the NFL come the start of next season. McCarron has a much better chance of being on a winning team if he stays with the Bengals. So as for his own wishes, while it may come down to having the opportunity to being the number one guy, playing on a winning team is something you'd have to assume McCarron wants, too. Sure, if he continues to improve another franchise might be able to build around him, but there is much less certainty in that than there is in the Bengals being a good team next season.
Trading McCarron has many pros and cons, both for the franchise and for McCarron himself. Cincinnati could make a trade in order to add depth, but in doing so, would consequently lose an outstanding backup quarterback. One thing is for sure, Bengal fans enjoyed seeing McCarron do well while stepping in during the 2015 season, and would hope to have someone as good as him ready to go should Dalton face an injury in the future.