How many times can a story change in the course of 18 hours?
We learned that when the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns botched a trade that would have sent AJ McCarron to the Browns in exchange for a second and third round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Now, that’s insane compensation for a quarterback who was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and is set to be a restricted free agent (probably*) this spring. In his NFL career, McCarron has played 10 games with four starts (including the postseason) and has completed 102 of 160 passes (63%) for 1,066 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Those aren’t spectacular numbers; considering that Jimmy Garoppolo was just traded from the Patriots to the 49ers in exchange for just a 2018 second round pick. Garoppolo's NFL stats are 17 games played with 2 starts, 63 of 94 completed passes (67%) for 690 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs. AJ McCarron (3 career starts each)— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) October 31, 2017
ANY/A is a prime QB metric.
JG's is in NFL's Top-5 most years. AJM in bottom half. pic.twitter.com/6nCWPe8U4S
If the McCarron deal had gone through, it would have been massive for the Bengals who would have had at least five draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. With compensatory picks and trade compensation from the Marquis Flowers deal, the Bengals would have had double digit draft picks for the second year in a row (11 picks in 2017).
So, how did these two Ohio football teams manage to botch the trade?
Well, there’s a lot of different reports, but what it seems to come down to is this:
- The deal was agreed to after 3:30 p.m. ET after previously having been shutdown by the Browns earlier in the day. The trade deadline was at precisely 4:00 p.m. ET.
- The Bengals signed the paperwork and delivered it to the NFL in time, right around 3:55 p.m. ET.
- The Browns signed the paperwork and sent it to the Bengals (via email), assuming the Bengals would sign that and send it to the league; the Bengals didn’t see that paperwork until it was too late.
- NFL rules (per Cleveland.com) require both teams to submit their own paperwork regardless, so the Browns needed to send the NFL their own paperwork, not send it to the Bengals.
- The Browns easily could have CC’d the NFL on their email to the Bengals (with the signed paperwork) but failed to.
Now, when I first heard this story, my thought was, how do the Browns manage to mess up a trade when they’ve traded pretty often in the last two years? Yes, they have a new(ish) GM, but still. HOW do you mess up such a big trade so massively with minutes to go before the NFL trade deadline?
The Browns reportedly appealed to the NFL to allow the trade to go through post-deadline, but the NFL refused. This is just a mess. For what it’s worth, it seems like Marvin Lewis is blaming the Browns and calling them out.
Marvin: "All you have to do is notify the league office. It's an easy thing." @FOX19 #Bengals— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) November 1, 2017
McCarron is saying he’s not mad or angry but you have to imagine this is unsettling for him. He also says his agent told him it was a done deal. Though, now we all know it clearly was not.
Small portion of AJ McCarron answering the trade questions. "I'm a competitor". #Bengals pic.twitter.com/2fOkLXVyuy— Elise Jesse (@Elise_JesseWLWT) November 1, 2017
AJ to media around his locker: "I'm as lost as everyone here." #Bengals— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) November 1, 2017
AJ thanked "Mr. Brown" for trying to give him an opportunity to go be a starter somewhere. #Bengals— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) November 1, 2017
McCarron said Burfict is one of best friends on team. After trade fell apart, Burfict told him 'We would have been tagging you" if we played— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) November 1, 2017
McCarron on trade falling thru..”makes u mentally tougher,let’s u see all the crazy sides of this business in short amount of time” #Bengals— aly cohen (@alyco32) November 1, 2017
At least he seems to be in good spirits about it as Andy Dalton was cracking jokes with and about McCarron this morning.
AJ McCarron is addressing the media right now. Andy Dalton just walked by and yelled “it was fake news!”— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) November 1, 2017
Andy talks on Wednesday.— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) November 1, 2017
AJ McCarron popped his head in room. Andy joked to media: "who do you want?" #Bengals
Dalton on McCarron: "It's a crazy situation." @FOX19 #Bengals— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) November 1, 2017
Regardless of whose fault it was that this deal didn’t go through (and it sounds like it was fully the Browns’ fault—though who really knows?) it’s a completely unfortunate situation. The Bengals could have gotten a huge haul in exchange for a backup quarterback and McCarron could have gotten a chance to turn around the 0-8 Browns. Also, Jeff Driskel is currently on IR but is allowed to return at any point now that we’re in Week 9. So, the Bengals easily could have moved McCarron to Cleveland and then move Driskel onto the active roster.
*McCarron is contesting his restricted free agent status as per NFL rules, he should be a restricted free agent this spring, but he’s making an argument that he should be an unrestricted free agent instead. It’s unclear what his argument is/how he plans to win this fight. A restricted free agent is a player who has three "accrued seasons” in the NFL. An accrued season is playing in, being on Injured/Reserve or being on the Physically Unable to Perform list for six or more games. McCarron was on the Non-Football Injury list for the majority of his first NFL season and only was on the roster from December 9, 2014 onward. Thus, he was not active for enough games during his rookie year for it to count as an accrued season. When he hits free agency this spring, he’ll only have three years of NFL experience to his name, making him an RFA, by NFL rules. McCarron should remain an RFA if the NFL rules are interpreted correctly, which will be done by an arbitrator. It’s expected that this will go to arbitration after the season is over (and before free agency kicks off in March).
So, the Bengals will get something in return for McCarron when he ultimately leaves. But, this trade probably would have given the Bengals a lot more (and quicker) than what they’ll ultimately get.
Browns fans have been frustrated with their team for far too long and Bengals fans can ultimately say the same (for different reasons). This failed trade just makes all of that frustration a lot worse. And really, there’s nothing we can do about it except complain among ourselves and ponder how it’s possible to mess this up.
And in the end, it sounds like the Bengals are happier with McCarron than without him...
Marv: AJ very valuable member of team and I was frankly relieved— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) November 1, 2017
That’s definitely the sentiment in the organization. Were willing to do the trade. But happy it didn’t happen. https://t.co/STz8CYTr4D— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 1, 2017