Suggestions that the Cincinnati Bengals trade AJ McCarron to maximize the return for the fourth-year signal caller out of Alabama have been plentiful. Many experts expected such a trade to take place prior to the 2017 NFL Draft.
When a trade failed to materialize, many Bengals fans recognized the importance of retaining one of the league’s top backups, especially with an offensive line that is rated among the worst in the National Football League.
Now, with the offensive line continuing to live down to expectations, and with the current rotation that features the three-headed monster of Andre Smith taking snaps from both Jake Fisher, at right tackle, and Cedric Ogbuehi, at left tackle, many are suggesting a trade that would exchange McCarron for an offensive lineman.
And it is not like such a trade is without precedent. In 1983, when quarterback John Elway refused to play for the Colts, Indianapolis was forced to trade him to the Denver Broncos for, among other things, offensive lineman Chris Hinton. Elway eventually won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, but not as many people are familiar with the career of Hinton.
Hinton would go on to become a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro left tackle with first the Baltimore and then the Indianapolis Colts. Hinton finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings and was inducted into the Colts’ Ring of Honor. That is not to suggest that McCarron will be the next Elway, or that the Bengals will receive the next Hinton in return.
The dynamics of any potential trade involving McCarron have changed since it was last visited. Jeff Driskel, the third-string quarterback who was expected to assume the backup role in the event of a McCarron trade, injured his thumb in the final game of the preseason and was placed on Injured Reserve, with the designation to return after the first eight games of the season.
That means that any potential trade of McCarron would not only have to involve a quality offensive lineman, preferably a tackle, but a suitable backup quarterback, as well. Fortunately for the Bengals, one such trade scenario does exist.
The Oakland Raiders boast the No. 7 offensive line in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. And the Raiders feature a couple of quality backup tackles that would more than fit the bill.
David Sharpe was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of the University of Florida. Sharpe started 26 games during his final two seasons with the Gators, and has prototypical size at 6’6” and 350 pounds. He showed his quickness at the combine by finishing third among all offensive linemen in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuffle. He has the size and power that the Bengals covet, although his stiff lower body may make him a liability in pass protection.
The Raiders’ backup at right tackle is Vadal Alexander, Oakland’s seventh-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. Alexander, a three-year starter at LSU before declaring for the draft after his junior season, was projected by many experts to go in the second or third round of the draft, and was considered the second best tackle available.
At 6’5” and 326 pounds, Alexander has the size and strength that can make him an excellent run blocker, but struggles in space and has problems in pass protection with the speedy edge rusher. He can also fall victim to the bull rush and can often find himself walked back into the quarterback. But he is aggressive and can overwhelm defenders.
If the Bengals were to finagle either Sharpe or Alexander in the trade for McCarron, the other half of the equation would be the inclusion of Raiders’ backup quarterback EJ Manuel. Manual, a first-round selection of the Buffalo Bills in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Florida State, started 10 games of his rookie season and showed enough promise that Coach Doug Marrone named him the presumptive starter for 2014.
Manuel lasted just one game into the 2014 season before being replaced by Kyle Orton. He did not work his way back into the starting rotation until the sixth game of the 2015 season in, fittingly, a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Manuel led the Bills on an 80-yard scoring drive on their first possession of the game, and finished 28-for-42 passing with 263 passing yards, a passing touchdown, one touchdown rushing, and an interception in a 34-21 loss. Manuel started only one more game in 2015, and had one start in 2016.
So try this on for size, Bengals’ fans: Cincinnati trades AJ McCarron to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for either offensive tackle David Sharpe or Vadal Alexander, as well as quarterback EJ Manuel. The Bengals get the help they have been looking for along the offensive line, and add an experienced quarterback they can turn to should anything happen to Andy Dalton.
In exchange, the Raiders pick up a quarterback they can depend on in light of a serious back injury to Derek Carr, who could miss the next month of action, of not longer. Back injuries are already tough to come back from, so Oakland would be wise to have a more reliable backup in his place.
This is a familiar situation for Oakland, as Carr had to sit out last season’s AFC wild-card playoff game against the Houston Texans with a broken fibula. With backup Connor Cook at the helm, the Raiders lost by a score of 27-14.
Speaking, having Cook on the roster as the third quarterback allows the Raiders to trade Manuel to the Bengals and still have a quarterback in place for Week 5. McCarron would be Cook’s backup for the time being until he gets the system down, which be watered down to ensure McCarron is playing sooner rather than later.
As for Manuel, he would be the backup for at least the four games until Driskel can come off IR in Week 9. The Bengals would probably rather have a veteran like Manuel as the backup since he’s actually started a lot of games, whereas Driskel has yet to throw a regular-season pass.
The Bengals value McCarron highly enough that they would likely squeeze a draft pick out of Oakland in addition to Manuel and the lineman. It probably wouldn’t be the first or second-round pick Cincinnati was hoping to get for McCarron, but it’s better than nothing, and it also helps the current team in addition to getting a future asset.
Perhaps the Bengals would want Cook instead of Manuel, who everyone knows is nothing more than a backup and fill-in starter. Cook may not even become that much, but he’s enough of an unknown that he could also become something more.
It would seem to be the classic win-win scenario, which is probably why it will never happen.