It's no secret the Bengals are at least open to dealing AJ McCarron this offseason.
Whether the team accomplishes that remains to be seen, but in the event the Bengals do net a nice draft pick for the backup quarterback, Cincinnati will likely sign another experienced passer to compete for the No. 2 spot behind Andy Dalton in 2017.
Even though Jeff Driskel was on the Bengals’ 53-man roster for all of his rookie season, he's too much of an unknown to anoint him as the backup with no competition. I just can’t see the Bengals rolling with Driskel as a the backup quarterback come Week 1.
If McCarron is traded away, I anticipate a veteran being brought in to compete with Driskel and any other quarterbacks on the roster to backup Dalton. It helps that there should be a good number of veteran passers available this offseason.
The most obvious name for Cincinnati to consider would be Ryan Fitzpatrick. The former backup for Carson Palmer already knows Cincinnati, and it's unlikely he re-signs with the Jets this offseason. It's also unlikely another team signs Fitzpatrick to even compete for a starting job in 2017, so the Bengals may be able to sign him for manageable backup money.
But in terms of the best quarterback hitting the market who should be in Cincinnati’s price range, Nick Foles is an intriguing option. The Chiefs are declining to pick up his option as he hits the open market, but it’s unlikely many, if any teams offer him anything more than backup money. If that’s the case, Cincinnati should make a run at him to be Dalton’s backup, though I’m sure Foles will try to sign with a team whose starter is not quite as entrenched.
Of course, the Bengals could go with a familiar and recent name in Josh Johnson. He’s had multiple stints with the Bengals since 2013, and the Bengals are notorious for preferring experienced veterans they’re familiar with as opposed to guys with more upside but lacking ties to the franchise.
Perhaps the Bengals will look at one of the backups from within the division set to hit free agency. Ryan Mallett is a very intriguing name after Cincinnati made a run at him in 2015 to backup McCarron when Dalton went down, but he signed with Baltimore instead. He’s been decent as a backup for the Ravens ever since, but not enough that he’ll command anything more than a small backup deal this year.
Landry Jones is set to become a free agent after backing up Big Ben for the past four years, though his brief playing time has produced far more lows than highs. I would sign him only if it’s non-guaranteed and there’s another decent quarterback on the roster to compete with him for the backup spot. The Steelers also claim they want him back and Ben Roethlisberger says he receives unjust hate.
The Browns have released Josh McCown after his failed stint with the mistake by the lake. McCown has shown he can be a productive passer with a good supporting cast, something he’s not had in Cleveland or his one-year stint with Tampa Bay in 2014. I think he’s one of the best low-risk, medium-reward options hitting the market this offseason. And since he was released, he won’t count against the compensatory pick formula, which could make him the most attractive backup option to a team like the Bengals.
Here’s a look at 20 quarterbacks set to hit the open market who the Bengals could show interest in this offseason if McCarron is traded away:
- Nick Foles
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Josh McCown
- Brian Hoyer
- Matt McGloin
- Geno Smith
- Ryan Mallett
- Blaine Gabbert
- Case Keenum
- EJ Manuel
- Matt Barkley
- Mark Sanchez
- Matt Cassel
- Landry Jones
- Colt McCoy
- T.J. Yates
- Ryan Nassib
- Shaun Hill
- Luke McCown
- Josh Johnson
Note: I’m omitting Kirk Cousins, Tony Romo, and Mike Glennon from this list as they are expected to command salaries far above what the Bengals are willing to pay, not to mention they’re focused on being starters, not backups.