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Bengals improperly used NFI list with AJ McCarron, per arbitrator

AJ McCarron won his grievance because the Bengals improperly used the NFI list in 2014.

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When AJ McCarron won his grievance on Thursday, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent this March, questions emerged. Specifically, what were the arguments that were used to convince the arbitrator to rule in McCarron’s favor?

According to Pro Football Talk, Dr. Marc Galloway, currently the team’s head physician, believed that McCarron “couldn’t play football as of September 2014” because he didn’t believe that ‘“it was in [McCarron’s] best long-term interest to play football in September.’ Dr. Galloway admitted that, if McCarron had said he wants to play in September 2014, Galloway would have allowed him to play.”

You want a doctor showing interest in a player’s long-term health, especially within a league enriched by the same players that the NFL shows minimal care for. However, it worked against the Bengals.

The arbitrator ultimately concluded that McCarron did not receive a medical examination before being placed on the NFI list, and that the evidence does not firmly establish that McCarron would have failed the exam. Indeed, by Dr. Galloway’s admission, McCarron would have passed it.


No medical examination? Now that seems odds. Why wouldn’t there be a formal examination when dealing with an injury — especially if that injury allegedly occurred away from team activities? Perhaps the team thought, there’s no way anyone can prove we did something wrong. If not for the doctor’s admission, Cincinnati could have won and McCarron wouldn’t have had a case. Regardless, a doctor made a judgement based on a belief regarding McCarron’s long-term health and no examination was conducted. These, per the Pro Football Talk story, were the primary factors that worked against the Bengals in the McCarron arbitration case.

Cincinnati placed McCarron on the team’s Non-Football Injury list prior to training camp in 2014 through early December. As a result, McCarron wasn’t able to earn an accrued season during his rookie season, forcing him to become a restricted free agent in 2018 as opposed to being unrestricted. The difference between restricted and unrestricted could amount to tens of millions of dollars for McCarron.

The NFL Management Council represented the team, supporting the team and disagreeing with the arbitrator’s choice. The Bengals won’t be disciplined; the NFL doesn’t want this issue to metastasize.