Last season, Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron got a taste of what it's like to be a starter in the NFL. He played admirably in the role he was thrown into when Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury in the first quarter of the Bengals' Week 14 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the games in which he started, McCarron went 2-2 with his losses coming at the hands of the Super Bowl Champion Broncos (in overtime) and the Steelers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Bengals also lost the Week 14 matchup against Pittsburgh in which McCarron saw his first significant NFL snaps, but McCarron didn't technically start that game.
During the 2015 regular season, McCarron racked up 854 passing yards with a completion percentage greater than 66%, along with 6 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. In the playoffs, McCarron led the Bengals to a near-win and the closest they've come to winning the Wild Card game during the Andy Dalton era. He completed 23/41 throws for 212 yards, a 56.1% completion percentage and 1 touchdown. During his short stint as the Bengals' leading man, McCarron enjoyed life as a starter.
"You always want to start," McCarron told Alex Marvez and Kirk Morrison on SiriusXM NFL's Opening Drive. "And I've always said this from the beginning, ‘God has a plan, everything happens for a reason.' I've just got to stay my course, stay the process and everything's going to work out."
If you remember back to this point last year, the biggest Bengals discussion of the offseason was whether McCarron had a chance at starting. But, unless Dalton suffers another injury in 2016, McCarron won't be starting for the Bengals this year. After a career-year from Dalton in 2015, there's simply not even room for chatter about whether McCarron can attempt to dethrone Dalton as the starter.
"When you come into the NFL, you believe you can play, but you’re always going to have doubters, no matter what," McCarron said. "And you still want to prove to yourself that you can play because it’s been so long. My rookie year, I didn’t have that chance, was rehabbing basically the whole year. So when you go home, you’re like, ‘I know I can play. I watch these guys play on Sunday, I know I can play with those guys.’ I think that’s the hardest part.
McCarron proved to the Bengals and the world, what he has the talent to do last year, but as someone who "always wants to start" could McCarron possibly be traded to another team before the 2016 season begins?
There was a lot of discussion about the potential for McCarron to be traded prior to the draft, but the trade hype has since died down.
One team that it would make a lot of sense for McCarron to be traded to, IF the Bengals were interested in trading him (which there's no reason to believe they are), is the Broncos. There are many Broncos fans on Twitter who think McCarron could come in and upgrade their quarterback situation. And, they could be right.
The Super Bowl 50 champions have a quarterback roster that includes Trevor Siemian, Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch. It'll be pretty hard for them to repeat as Super Bowl champions, or even beat the Bengals in Week 3 with one of those three quarterbacks starting. Though, it also wouldn't make too much sense for the Bengals to help one of their 2016 opponents by handing over a quarterback to help the team and weaken the Bengals' quarterback depth.
At this point, trading McCarron away seems highly unlikely. The Bengals don't have another quarterback on the roster who is a proven No. 2 and last year, we saw the value of a backup quarterback in the NFL. When Dalton went down, McCarron wasn't only relied on to finish out the season, but also to play in the playoffs. So while McCarron would like to start, his chances in 2016 of that happening are quite low.
"The NFL stands for Not For Long," McCarron said on SiriusXM, "and I know that and I'm blessed every day I wake up and I'm able to have one more day in the league."
For at least the next eight months, those days are likely to be as a backup for the Bengals.