There is a lot left to be decided with AJ McCarron this offseason. He currently has a grievance filed saying he should be an unrestricted free agent rather than a restricted free agent this offseason.
The difference between the two is restricted free agency means the Bengals could hit him with a tender that corresponds with a certain draft pick. That means if a team wanted to acquire McCarron, they either have to give up a draft pick to sign him, or they must wait until he signs it and then trade for him.
That is obviously a lot to ask from a team when there could be several other options hitting free agency or in the draft. If McCarron gets his way, he would be free to field offers from any team, and those teams wouldn’t be required to give the Bengals any compensation.
Chris Simms recently predicted where all the quarterbacks on the quarterback carousel will end up this offseason for Bleacher Report. This included where McCarron would end up:
We don’t know if AJ McCarron is going to be an unrestricted free agent or a restricted free agent this offseason. He filed a grievance to obtain unrestricted status—he started his rookie year on the non-football injury list and was only on the active roster for three games—but I believe he’ll be back in Cincinnati next season.
I also believe McCarron will have an opportunity to start in 2018.
It’s time for the Bengals to open up the quarterback competition. Andy Dalton has done some good things, but at this point, we know what he is. McCarron has shown promise and that he is capable of leading Cincinnati on a postseason run. If Jeremy Hill didn’t fumble a couple of years ago against the Steelers, McCarron would have a playoff victory on his resume.
Now, before we go in on this, I agree that odds are McCarron will remain a restricted free agent. I don’t agree with the whole restricted free agency premise, but that is something the NFL Players Association will have to fight.
As far as McCarron starting for the Bengals next season, I can’t see that happening. In fact, anyone who knows Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown well enough know how ridiculous this is.
Lewis has decided Andy Dalton is his guy. He has never wavered from this idea. Dalton also isn’t a bad quarterback by any means.
Mike Brown also re-signed Lewis after not producing a single playoff win during his entire career because he felt Lewis had the right to ride this one out after building this team. You think that owner will make any sort of push to throw out McCarron?
Also, let’s not forget the Bengals almost traded McCarron last season to the Browns. This was while Dalton was on his way to one of his worst seasons as a pro. They obviously value McCarron as a backup, but when push came to shove they openly admitted with that move that, no matter how bad Dalton is playing, they won’t be turning to McCarron to turn things around.
As far as using the near-playoff win against the Steelers, we should reevaluate the circumstances that led to that, and why it wasn’t McCarron who was responsible.
2015 was the best season for the Dalton era. It was the prime year for this team. They had one of the best offensive lines and all the weapons that Dalton could ever need with A.J. Green, a fully healthy Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones Jr. and Mohamed Sanu.
Dalton threw 25 touchdowns that season while leading the Bengals to an 8-0 start. That included a victory over the Steelers. Dalton’s season was ended when he injured his thumb Week 14 against the Steelers. This is when McCarron got his shot.
Again, this was the most talented Bengals roster we had seen for a long time, and McCarron was tasked to essentially not screw it up. He went 2-1 as a starter, but the biggest loss was to the Broncos, who the Bengals were fighting for a playoff bye at the time. McCarron lost that game by fumbling the ball away in overtime.
Now, when the Bengals made it to the the Wild Card round, McCarron again struggled. People will remember him for the touchdown that gave the Bengals the late lead, but he also fumbled the ball three times (only losing one), and he had an interception in the game as well.
The real reason the Bengals were in such a great position to win that game was the defense holding Pittsburgh to 15 points for most of the game, then handing the offense the perfect opportunity to seal the game away with a late interception.
Listen, McCarron could end up being a good quarterback, but people hoisting him up to be this savior doesn’t make sense. He had an average run with an incredibly talented offense that isn’t there anymore.
I’m not here to say Dalton is that much better than McCarron, but I am here to say anyone who believes Lewis and Brown will make a change at that position doesn’t know what they are talking about.