One of the biggest stories surrounding the Bengals this offseason continues to center around AJ McCarron.
McCarron has made it clear he’s open to being traded this offseason, and the Bengals should be open to getting him dealt in exchange for adequate compensation.
Though McCarron didn’t play any significant snaps in 2016, teams are still high on what he did in 2015 when Andy Dalton went down late in the season. McCarron came in and helped the Bengals finish off a 12-4 season, win the AFC North, and nearly win a playoff game. That’s kept his stock fairly high ever since.
But that value will drop, if not completely evaporate next season when McCarron becomes a restricted free agent, so in order for the Bengals to get the most value in exchange for McCarron, the team should deal him this offseason.
It helps that there isn’t a strong quarterback market developing this offseason for quarterbacks. Guys like Tony Romo, Mike Glennon, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Foles and Brian Hoyer lead the way among those on the market or those who expect to be on the market.
However, there is another signed quarterback who will be on the final year of his deal in 2017 who also may also be dealt. The Patriots could deal Jimmy Garoppolo at some point this offseason, and the market he commands could be similar to how much interest there is for McCarron.
One teams that could look to add a young quarterback still on his rookie deal is the Browns, who employ former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as their head coach. Jackson was critical in the development of McCarron as a fifth-round pick out of Alabama, and that previous relationship makes Cleveland a viable trade partner.
But according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Browns will make a play for Garoppolo, though much is still in play based on their draft evaluation of the top quarterback prospects.
Sources say the Browns' interest in Garoppolo is real and that they'll try to trade for him depending on how their draft evaluations go over the next five weeks or so.
If the Browns decide to draft Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson in the first round, they'll be much less likely to pursue the Patriots' backup -- but wouldn't rule it out.
But they'll have competition for Garoppolo that will drive up the price. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan liked him coming out of the draft, and might pursue a deal once he formally becomes the 49ers' head coach.
The 49ers have the No. 2 pick in the draft, and are also looking for a quarterback.
But the Browns are intrigued, sources say, and they'll strongly consider it. The cost could be the No. 12 overall pick and more.
Elsewhere, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that "the interest in Garoppolo is real" on Cleveland’s end, but there is some doubt a deal can be struck.
"We do not know whether or not they will strike a deal for that, how willing the Patriots would be to actually part with someone who would be their backup next year and their big-time insurance policy in case Tom Brady ever gets injured," Rapoport said, via NFL.com.
History suggests that both quarterbacks won’t be dealt in the same offseason, if either is dealt for that matter. Quarterback rarely get traded these days, and when they do, it’s few and far between.
And the Bengals are in the same boat in terms of wanting a quality backup behind Dalton, which is why their asking price for McCarron will remain high. It looks like the same will take place with the Patriots, so the market for one backup may dictate the other’ value.
Teams in win-now mode may prefer a veteran like Romo or even Glennon, but most teams in need of a quarterback are in the midst of a bigger rebuild, which could allow New England and/or Cincinnati to claim a nice pick or two in exchange for their young backups. Not to mention, it’s currently unclear if the Cowboys will release Romo, or if they too will attempt to trade him away.
One thing that could give McCarron more value than Garoppolo is that the former is effectively under contract for two more seasons. While the former fifth-round pick is set to become a free agent in 2018, what you may not have realized is McCarron is actually going to be a restricted free agent in 2018.
That means whoever has McCarron on their roster next year could use a first-round tender on him so that any team that signs him to an offer sheet must give that team a first-round pick in addition to paying the contract they sign McCarron to. It would be unlikely any team does that, so whichever team has McCarron entering the 2017 season will very likely have him in 2018 as well, if they so choose.
And as the above mentioned list of quarterbacks shows, it’s likely to be a barren market for signal-callers this offseason, making younger guys like McCarron and Garoppolo very attractive targets for teams wanting a guy to come in and attempt to become their franchise quarterback.
This is why the Bengals should get the most value out of McCarron by trading him this year, preferably before the 2017 NFL Draft, which will allow them to get a pick in this year’s draft with which to upgrade the roster next season.