At this point last year, AJ McCarron was gearing up for a playoff game. One year later, the former Crimson Tide quarterback knows his worth following a season on the bench.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Bengals backup quarterback looked “like a man saying his goodbyes” following the Ravens game. McCarron reportedly hugged a Bengals staffer “just in case” and seemed prepared for a scenario where he could be traded to another team this offseason.
“Now, it’s nothing I can do,” McCarron said on Monday in the Bengals’ locker room. “I try not to worry about it. You’re always gonna think about it. I’d be lyin’; whoever told you that I wouldn’t, or if they were going through the same situation, you’re going to think about it. Because you want to play as a competitor. I’ll let my agent handle everything and go with whatever he says.”
McCarron went 2-2 in 2015 (playoffs included), throwing seven touchdowns and three interceptions in his limited time on the field. His performance was so good that it evoked intense rumors the Bengals would look to trade him during the 2016 offseason. The team even signed 49ers draftee, sixth-rounder Jeff Driskel, keeping him on the 53-man roster throughout the 2016 season, leading to further questions about McCarron’s future in Cincinnati. One would assume the team made this move to prepare for McCarron’s eventual departure, whether via free agency in the 2018 offseason (when his rookie deal expires) or a trade which would come sooner than then.
“I definitely wouldn’t be distraught at all,” McCarron said when asked how he’d feel about a potential trade. “Like I told Marvin (Lewis) and all my coaches in my exit meetings, I appreciate everybody in this organization. I really do. From the bottom of my heart. They gave me a chance when a lot of people wouldn’t. They all treated me unbelievably and I really do care for every one of ‘em and respect all ‘em. This place will always have a special place in my heart just for what they’ve done for me. I really appreciated it.”
For a backup quarterback, the opportunity to play isn’t something to be taken lightly. McCarron has never shied away from his interest in starting for an NFL team, even if it’s an NFL team not named the Bengals. He spoke about it last offseason and he’ll likely continue to answer questions on the topic until he’s either traded or his rookie deal in Cincinnati expires.
“The coaches know, Marvin knows how big of a competitor I am and I want a chance to play,” said McCarron. “But, if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. Things I can't control. I’m not going to put any, what (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) likes to say, mental units on that because it’s out of my hands.”
On one hand, a potential McCarron makes sense, as the team clearly believes Andy Dalton is the franchise quarterback and has an insurance policy in Driskel. On the other hand, McCarron would probably draw a high compensatory pick in free agency, and teams can’t be too cautious with quarterback depth — especially a team which saw its franchise passer miss its most recent playoff game. That, plus the slew of anticipated compensatory picks the Bengals are expected to have, makes me believe the Bengals could keep McCarron on the roster until his contract expires, seeing as though trading a valuable asset for another pick in a draft where the team already has an abundance of picks seems counterintuitive. But who knows? Maybe McCarron’s days in Cincinnati are numbered, he does sound like a guy on a mission to make an impact in the NFL.