It’s no secret in Cincinnati that AJ McCarron is a good quarterback, and as we watched him during each preseason game, that only became more clear.
This preseason, McCarron posted an average of 105 passing yards per-game and threw 3 touchdowns with 0 interceptions on a 65.5% completion percentage. That brought his passer rating to 106.8 and for someone only playing portions of each game, as a backup, that’s nothing to scoff at.
And when you look at what some starting quarterbacks have been doing, it’s clear that Cincinnati has a backup quarterback that is good enough to start on other NFL teams. Take a look at the Denver Broncos for instance, whose starting quarterback, Trevor Siemian, had 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions and a 70.4 passer rating this preseason. Denver’s weakness at quarterback is the only thing keeping them from being favorites to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, as their defense is still in line to be absolutely dominant. If the offense had a quarterback like McCarron who could simply get the job done, they’d be in much better position than they are now.
Another team in a position similar to Denver is the Cleveland Browns. Rumors heated up in the offseason about Hue Jackson potentially trying to take McCarron with him to Cleveland, but they never materialized. However, even with Robert Griffin III being added to the Browns, there’s still no doubt that McCarron would be right in the middle of a quarterback competition had he ended up in Cleveland.
A few other places come to mind, many of them teams that have quarterback battles going on between passers that have been underwhelming recently. The San Francisco 49ers, who are opting for Blaine Gabbert over Colin Kaepernick, would likely have a better option if McCarron found himself in San Francisco. This preseason, Gabbert went 12/22 for 146 yards and a 54.5 percent completion rate. He threw 1 interception and no touchdowns, good for a 90.3 quarterback rating. Kaepernick only played in two preseason games, going 13/24 for 117 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a 54.2 completion percentage. Good for a 67.5 quarterback rating. McCarron compares favorably to both of the 49ers’ options.
Or there’s the Los Angeles Rams, who drafted Jared Goff No. 1 overall but will likely have him third on the depth chart at the start of the season. Case Keenum is set to be the starter in Los Angeles, but there’s no doubt that McCarron could disrupt that if he were a Ram in 2016. Keenum has completed 18/24 passes this preseason for 188 yards and a touchdown, good for a 75 percent completion rate and 111.1 quarterback rating. While those numbers are better than McCarron’s this preseason, they’re from a guy who has been playing with the starters while McCarron has had backups to throw to.
Between filling in for Andy Dalton after his injury last season, and getting some playing time this preseason, McCarron has shown that while he may not be the next Peyton Manning, he can lead an offense, be efficient, and do enough to put points on the board. There are several teams in the NFL that don’t have a quarterback that can do that right now, and with the importance of the quarterback in today’s NFL, some teams would do a lot to get a quarterback like McCarron. For example, the Houston Texans signed Brock Osweiler, a man essentially in the same exact position as McCarron (filling in for Manning and doing enough to win) to a $76 million contract to be their starting quarterback for the exact same reason that McCarron could be a starter: they didn’t have a quarterback who could get the job done. A defense led by J.J. Watt can only get you so far; when your starter throws four interceptions in the playoffs, you have to get someone who can do better.
That’s exactly what McCarron could be for another team, someone better. But should the Bengals trade him if the return is good?
Unless the return is incredibly unbalanced, and a team is willing to give up a franchise talent for him, the answer is no. McCarron is a commodity in the NFL. This league is the most unpredictable sports league in the world when it comes to length of players’ careers. You never know what could happen to your starting quarterback, and when we saw worse come to worst last season, we could have been looking at a team that went from 10-2 to a team that didn’t even win its division had the Bengals not had McCarron in the No. 2 spot. No, he wasn’t Dalton, but he was much better than many expected he’d be. Cincinnati needs that capability coming off the bench at quarterback, and they need to hold onto McCarron for as long as they can.
As for whether or not they could trade McCarron, it certainly isn’t likely. The Bengals aren’t known for making trades, and the organization feels that McCarron is an important part of the team. Unless McCarron forces his way out, it looks like he’ll be in Cincinnati for at least the next season and potentially the next two for which he is under contract.