There has been a lot of talk this offseason about the possibility of the Bengals trading AJ McCarron. On the surface, the talk seems to make sense. He will be a restricted free agent when his contract runs out after 2017, and it seems unlikely the Bengals will be able to re-sign him given his experience in big-game situations and his solid play in relief of Andy Dalton at the end of the 2015 season. McCarron should have a high trade value this offseason. However, according to Bengals’ Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin, his experience and value are the exact reasons the Bengals want to keep him around with the team as long as possible.
“AJ is used to the big stage and when he got on it, he produced. So he’s become a very valuable piece of our team,” Tobin told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com. “Even though you don’t see him on the field that much, he’s become an extremely valuable piece of our team.”
In fact, the sheer reason why he might be more valuable to another team than he is to the Bengals is his competitive drive for greatness. But again, that’s exactly the reason the Bengals like having him around.
“We’re proud of the way he’s handled it. We’re proud of the way that he goes about his work, the support he gives Andy and the rest of the offense I think is underestimated,” Tobin said. “He is a big piece of what we do and he certainly is very capable.”
If the Bengals were to trade McCarron, it would likely require a substantial concession from the other team. His drive to succeed and lack of content being the backup quarterback give plenty of teams reason to shell out for him. But, it also gives the Bengals a chance to demand more in return than you would expect in a trade for a backup quarterback.
“AJ’s a competitor. AJ wants to be a starting quarterback,” Tobin said. “Those are traits that you want to see in a guy. You don’t want guys that are content with their role if it’s not as big as what it could be.”
McCarron has already expressed an interest in being traded, saying that he “definitely wouldn’t be distraught at all.” He knows as well as anyone that, barring some unthinkable scenario in which Dalton is no longer able to play, he won’t be the Bengals’ starting quarterback anytime soon. He is only three years younger than Dalton, so by the time the position naturally opens up, he would be near the end of his career anyway. Dalton has already established himself as the franchise quarterback in Cincinnati and has improved every year. With that said, there is little room for McCarron to grow in Cincinnati.
For those reasons, the Bengals will have to come to terms with McCarron’s inevitable departure one way or the other. Not only will he likely seek a move to a team with a more fluid starting quarterback situation when his contract runs out, but those teams will likely throw sums of money at him that the Bengals can’t afford to spend on their backup quarterback. But with Tobin talking him up like this, you can bet the Bengals won’t let McCarron go without significant value in exchange for the quarterback.
“Whenever he’s in the game or whenever we would have to put him in the game we feel comfortable that he can get the job done,” Tobin said. “That’s a credit to him and the coaches for getting him ready with limited practice.”
A vote of confidence like that from a member of the front office is sure to cause McCarron’s overall value to increase. When you get right down to it, it might be exactly what the Bengals are trying to do. If you’ll recall, the Bengals employed a similar strategy of driving up Carson Palmer’s trade value, albeit through negative reinforcement rather than positive, and ended up with one of the most lopsided trade deals in franchise history. The Bengals received a first round pick in 2012 and a conditional second round pick in 2013, while the Raiders received a veteran quarterback who played well, but skipped town after two seasons to join a contender in the Arizona Cardinals.
It is unlikely that the Bengals could receive the same value for McCarron as they did for Palmer, but if a team is desperate enough for a decent quarterback, there is a chance for a high round draft pick coupled with a late round pick or possibly a high round pick and a veteran player whom the Bengals are interested in bringing to Cincinnati. It’s hard to say what the price for McCarron will be, but it is obvious that Tobin and the rest of the Bengals’ staff value his presence very highly.
If the Bengals do trade him, it would likely be a blockbuster deal.