With the first major wave of NFL free agency having passed, now it the time when teams in need of a quarterback may look to acquire one via trade.
Count the Denver Broncos among them, as they just lost Brock Osweiler to the Houston Texans and Peyton Manning to retirement. They've already traded for one quarterback by getting Mark Sanchez from the Philadelphia Eagles.
However, you can pretty much mark this down as getting Sanchez for nothing as a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2017 was all it took to acquire the backup. So don't be surprised if Denver trades for another quarterback at some point this offseason.
Could the Cincinnati Bengals be a potential suitor? AJ McCarron is coming off a solid five-game stretch that helped the Bengals win the AFC North and put them in position to win a playoff game. Given, it was Andy Dalton who did the work over the first 12 games to put them in place to do that, but not many backups can come in and do what McCarron did in his brief stretch with no prior starting experience in the NFL under his belt.
Was it enough for the Bengals to consider trading him for a good draft pick and either go with Keith Wenning as their backup in 2016 or draft another quarterback late in the 2016 draft?
Even McCarron seemed to float the possibility of it before free agency began. That was before Denver became depleted at quarterback and now could needy for a guy like McCarron on their roster. In fact, you could argue the third-year passer out of Alabama is a much better fit for a defensively-focused Broncos team where he would be a game manager, whereas he needs to do a lot more offensively for a Bengals team relying heavily on their dynamic offense.
Maybe in the grand scheme of things, McCarron in Denver and Cincinnati holding another high draft pick is the best outcome for all parties. Making this even more attractive of a scenario to pursue for the Bengals is, while this draft lacks elite quarterback prospects, there are plenty of guys who will be solid backups into Day 3. They could ship McCarron out for, say a Day 2 pick, then spend a fifth or sixth-round pick on another quarterback to compete with Wenning for the backup spot next season.
But what exactly could the Bengals get in exchange for McCarron?
If a 29-year-old Sanchez with his career touchdown to interceptions ratio of 86–84 and 74.3 passer rating could land even a conditional pick, surely a 25-year-old McCarron with a TD-INT ratio of 6-2 and a 97.1 passer rating would get a nice pick for Cincinnati.
But there is a very shaky precedence when it comes to trading backups quarterbacks. In 2014, the New England Patriots traded Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans for a conditional sixth or seventh-round pick. However, 2014 was the final year of Mallett's deal, whereas McCarron is under contract for two more years, so his value there is higher, not to mention Mallett had attempted just four passes before said trade.
One of the bigger quarterback trades of the past decade came in 2007 when those same Texans acquired Matt Schaub from the Atlanta Falcons for second-round picks in 2007 and 2008. As part of the deal, the teams also swapped first-round picks in 2007, exchanging the Falcons' 10th pick with the Texans' 8th pick.
To that point, McCarron had attempted just 161 passes with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Even with so little production to that point, it's hard to see the Bengals landing that kind of deal with any team for McCarron, but then again, the infamous Carson Palmer heist at the expense of the Oakland Raiders seemed unlikely to command so much value for the Bengals.
The difference with that was Palmer had years of experience and superstar level play to that point, even if it had faded a bit before Cincinnati shipped him to the black hole. McCarron isn't landing a first-round pick, let alone a first and a third-rounder.
The only other quarterback trade recently that may offer insight to what the Bengals could get is the Minnesota Vikings shipping Matt Cassell, along with a sixth round 2015 NFL Draft pick, to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a 2015 fifth round pick and seventh round pick in 2016.
Cassell was later traded to the Dallas Cowboys, along with Buffalo's 2017 seventh round pick, in exchange for Dallas' 2017 fifth round pick. Cassell at this point was of similar value to that of Sanchez, so in theory, the Bengals should be able to land more for McCarron if a team is high on his upside and the promise he showed for the Bengals this season.
The key to many of these trades was receiving teams in desperate need of a quarterback while also being close to being playoff teams and even title contenders. Looking at a Denver team fresh off a Super Bowl win and with enough firepower to contend for it next season, a decent quarterback is all they need to get back to the playoffs and possibly make another run for the Lombardi.
That kind of added value and incentive could be what gets the Bengals a nice return for McCarron in a trade. It's hard to see them landing anything more than a third-round draft pick, but maybe the two sides get a little tricky like the above trades mentioned and, say, have Cincinnati send McCarron and their third-round pick (87th overall) for Denver's second-round pick (63rd overall) and a late Day 3 pick in either the 2016 or 2017 draft.
That way Denver isn't completely giving up a Day 2 pick to get an unproven quarterback, but is giving the Bengals a chance to move up and have more ammo to land a good wide receiver if they don't like who's on the board in Round 1.
That's a position Cincinnati desperately has to address within the first two rounds, but this would allow them to not have to force it in Round 1 or even earlier in Round 2. Maybe they do what Jacksonville did in 2014 and take two receivers in Round 2 in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, a move that has worked very nicely for them as Robinson comes off an impressive Pro Bowl season.
That's about the best kind of deal I can see the Bengals landing for McCarron if they do decide to parlay the former fifth-round pick into a nice Day 2 pick as they continue to build toward a Super Bowl.