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What Jeff Driskel’s injury means for Bengals’ 53-man roster

Driskel’s absence affects how Cincinnati will now approach final cuts.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals won’t have a third quarterback this year, at least not to start the season.

After keeping Jeff Driskel as the third quarterback for all of 2016, it looked like he would retain his roster spot in 2017 thanks to a good preseason. That changed Thursday night when Driskel went down with a broken thumb, which could sideline him for the next two months.

That’s the expectation, according to’s Geoff Hobson, who adds that Driskel could be a candidate for the Injured Reserve-return designation.

The news on No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel seems pretty obvious when he emerged with a splint on his throwing thumb after taking a shot early in the second quarter on a screen pass. It's feared his thumb is broken and now the question is if he’s an injured reserve-return guy or if he’s done for the season.

More irony? The two locks on the offensive side of the ball for Saturday’s final cut to 53 was seven receivers and three quarterbacks. Now it’s all up in the air. If Driskel is an IR-return guy, he has to be counted on the 53 before moving to IR on Monday.

While Driskel may just be a third quarterback, his loss will have a big impact on how the Bengals construct their 53-man roster.

Extra Spot For Bubble Guys

The most obvious way this impacts the roster is Driskel’s spot goes out the window and is up for grabs.

First, Driskel must make the 53-man roster and remain there until Monday to be eligible for the IR-return designation. So expect to see him on the roster when it’s constructed on Saturday before he’s moved to IR on Monday.

Assuming he lands on IR or is waived, that’s going to be another roster spot that goes to someone like KeiVarae Russell, Marcus Hardison, Brandon Bell, Demetrious Cox, Tra Carson or Christian Westerman.

Those are the guys firmly on the roster bubble, and one of them now may make it after being on the outside looking in. My guess is the Bengals keep an extra running back, and that spot goes to Carson.

No McCarron Trade

Perhaps the biggest thing Driskel’s injury does is all but assure McCarron isn’t traded. Maybe the Bengals were letting up just a tad on their asking price for McCarron as Driskel shined in the preseason.

Now, McCarron is the only quarterback Cincinnati has access to who can take over this offense if Andy Dalton goes down. I would go as far as to say a first-round pick wouldn’t be enough to pry McCarron away from the Bengals at this point. They’re convinced he can take over and play at a decent enough level if called upon.

The Bengals clearly overvalue McCarron, and that’s even more true with Driskel out.

Outside QB Options

With Driskel out, the Bengals are going to start evaluating other quarterback options once final cuts are made. There’s little chance the Bengals add another one to the roster, but then again, that’s what we said last year before Driskel was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers.

There’s bound to some talented quarterbacks who hit waivers this weekend, so maybe the Bengals claim one to have as an emergency third passer behind Dalton and McCarron.

It’s also possible the Bengals find a quarterback to develop on the practice squad. They did this with Keith Wenning in 2015 while also prepping him to take over in an emergency, which came when Dalton went down with a broken thumb. That allowed Wenning to go from the practice squad to backing up McCarron for the final four games.


Would the Bengals actually burn an IR-return spot on a third-string quarterback?

Why not...well, at least as long as he’s one of the only players eligible for it. If the Bengals can avoid any season-ending injuries to key players, perhaps Driskel is the only player capable of coming off IR and returning to practice this season.

However, Driskel has to be on the Week 1 roster to be eligible for this. That means the Bengals have to cut someone on Saturday to keep Driskel, and then try to get them back two days later. That actually could work if it’s a vested veteran like Wallace Gilberry. The Bengals could simply cut Gilberry to use as his spot for Driskel, who will go to IR two days later, which will free up a spot for Gilberry to re-sign next week. That’s assuming he doesn’t get signed by another team in that span.

This happens all the time, and most veterans are fine doing it to help out their team. The Bengals may very well do this to keep open the possibility of Driskel returning this season.

Last year, the Bengals cut Trey Hopkins and Chykie Brown to allow for William Jackson III and Cedric Peerman to be placed on the 53-man roster for two days before moving them to IR. At that point, Hopkins and Brown returned. That made both Jackson and Peerman eligible to return later on in the season. The Bengals ultimately returned Peerman. This year, for the first time ever, two players will be able to return from IR. That really changes things up and one of those players could be Driskel.