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The Bengals and Browns managed to botch a major trade and we’re all worse off for it

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Everyone is pointing the finger. Was it the Browns’ fault (sounds like it) or the Bengals’ fault that a trade to send AJ McCarron to Cleveland fell through? Now, we’re left to wonder and react.

NFL: Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

How many times can a story change in the course of 18 hours?

A lot.

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.

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.

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.

At least he seems to be in good spirits about it as Andy Dalton was cracking jokes with and about McCarron this morning.

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...