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Bengals positional analysis: Quarterback

We conclude our looks at all of the Bengals’ positional groups with the most important, yet interesting spots on the team. What is going on with the Bengals’ quarterback depth behind Andy Dalton?

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Though Marvin Lewis has had his share of accolades and criticisms in his 15-year tenure in Cincinnati, the Bengals have largely solved the quarterback problems that plagued the club through the 1990s and early 2000s.

Critics are always making noise regarding current Bengals starter, Andy Dalton, but in his past two seasons, coupled with some franchise passing records, Dalton has made believers out of many. When looking at the state of the quarterback position for Cincinnati, it’s well-known that Dalton is the unquestioned starter and franchise quarterback.

So, while it’s great news that the Bengals have a productive starter set to be under center in 2017, some rare big questions exist in the backups. Last year, the Bengals made the uncommon decision to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster: Dalton, AJ McCarron and rookie Jeff Driskel.

One of the big questions that has lingered over the club in the past two offseasons is the trade value of McCarron, given his play at the end of 2015 and the current landscape of quarterbacks around the league. While he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, some believe that a high pick might be had for the former collegiate three-time National Champion, should they come calling.

With the team surprisingly carrying the promising Driskel on the roster last year, maybe the team should be more open to trading McCarron. However, much like their passive approach to free agency, the team is waiting for the right offer.

On last week’s Orange and Black Insider, we concluded our regular segment of reviewing the Bengals’ positional outlook at quarterback. We didn’t question Dalton’s status as the starter, though we were both worried about the protection up front given the player attrition last year and we both wondered what was going on behind No. 14.

On the surface, McCarron’s 2-3 record as an NFL quarterback (he played the large amount of the Week 14 matchup against the Steelers in 2015 when Dalton was injured), isn’t all that impressive. But, despite some struggles in terrible weather in the Wild Card game that year, McCarron had the Bengals oh-so-close to that elusive playoff win they have been clamoring for since 1991. We’re also including two games against the Steelers and another overtime loss against the Broncos at home, who, by the way, went on the win the Super Bowl.

There’s also little doubt that he can carve up an NFL team’s reserves, given his limited, albeit stellar performances in the preseason. Even though he wouldn’t command the haul that the Bengals received for the disgruntled Carson Palmer back in 2011 with a desperate Raiders team, it’s possible the Bengals are playing with house money to get the biggest possible gain, should a team come knocking.

Scott Schulze and I agreed while the 2016 offseason may have been a good offseason to trade McCarron, especially directly following his somewhat-impressive games played, and that this is the time to really look hard at dealing him. We don’t want to say that the team is in full rebuild mode once again, but they have made it known that 2017 is riding on the draft class next month, so why not accumulate another relatively high pick to give yourself more flexibility?

“They’ve made comments about McCarron and how they want to re-sign him long-term—there’s no way that’s happening,” Scott said. “If he wants to be a starter, most people do and want that chance, he’s not going to get that here. And, secondly, we’ve seen what backups can bring, as far as free agent salaries. We saw what (Brock) Osweiler got, guys like (Mike) Glennon, who is a backup quarterback and seems to have any sort of ability who can take an NFL snap under center, is going to get money. Someone is going to give him more than what Mike Brown is going to give him to be a backup when he’s no longer under contract.”

While Scott also noted the team’s ability to draft another talented signal-caller if they deal McCarron, this year’s quarterback class is a bit weaker than other recent ones. Still, quarterback appears to be one of the few needs on this current Bengals roster, so if getting another pick to use on a high-ceiling rookie or using it as a package to move up for talent at another needed spot, why not do so?

Unfortunately for the Bengals’ slow-moving ways, some of the quarterback-needy teams this year have made moves. The Bears grabbed Glennon and are reportedly also looking at Mark Sanchez, while the Jets just signed journeyman Josh McCown. That leaves few other options for the team to deal McCarron before the start of training camp.

Scott and I both noted the desperate nature teams can get fall into when injuries occur at the position, and/or their willingness to make moves on draft weekend, but the high-yield options for McCarron are dwindling. Denver is trying to find a starter, but they used a first round pick on Paxton Lynch last year. Houston is in the same boat, while San Francisco may have signed a band-aid in Brian Hoyer.

Though the team doesn’t desperately need to make a move and get lower value than what they want in the spring months, it may take an unfortunate injury for another team to come calling this summer or fall, unless they want a high-priced backup right now. Is the Bengals’ wait-and-see approach the best one?

Driskel remains the wild card. Obviously, the team thinks highly enough of him to keep him around as a project, but is using three roster spots on quarterback, when not usually needed, the best move for a team that needs to rebuild depth at so many areas and is looking at 11 draft picks this year?

For those unfamiliar with Driskel, he fell out of favor at the University of Florida and transferred to Louisiana Tech. In his final year as a Bulldog, he racked up 27 touchdowns against just eight interceptions and 4,026 yards on a 62.3 completion percentage. He was drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The 49ers then cut him during final roster cuts, hoping to get him onto their practice squad. But, the Bengals swooped in before they could and claimed him off waivers, moving him onto the roster.

While we don’t necessarily think the Bengals’ quarterback group will look much different this year, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be listening to trade offers—especially if a team seeking a quarterback in the draft doesn’t land one.

What do you think? You can listen to this OBI segment on SoundCloud, or, watch on YouTube (video above).

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