We now know that AJ McCarron is an unrestricted free agent this year, but it doesn’t appear the Bengals are in trouble for how they handle this whole situation.
According to Pro Football Talk, the NFL won’t be penalizing the Bengals for keeping McCarron on the Non Football Injury list for most of the 2014 season.
“The NFL Management Council represented the club in the grievance,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email on Thursday night. Asked whether this means that the NFL agreed with the team’s decision to place McCarron on the NFI list, McCarthy said, “Correct.”
The whole ordeal of McCarron’s free agent status started after the Bengals drafted him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He showed up to camp with a shoulder injury suffered in college, and he spent most of the season on the Non-Football Injury list.
McCarron was only active and on the Bengals’ roster for the final three weeks of the season. By NFL rule, one year of experience is six or more games played or spent on the Physically Unable to Perform or Injured Reserve lists. That meant McCarron would have only three years of service time at the time he hit free agency (March 2018), making him a restricted free agent this year.
But McCarron argued that he was healthy enough to play far sooner than the Bengals activated him, and the arbitrator ultimately ruled in his favor while also deeming the Bengals responsible for not fairly evaluating McCarron’s health.
Now, McCarron is an unrestricted free agent and likely to move on to another team while the Bengals will at most get a compensatory pick for losing their backup quarterback.