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AJ McCarron was never competing for the Bengals’ starting QB job

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Even when Andy Dalton struggled mightily, AJ McCarron was never going to get the chance to start.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

As the AJ McCarron saga continues to turn, he’s beginning to open up about his time with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback is now set to become an unrestricted free agent, thanks to a recent ruling by a third-party arbitrator, and he’ll likely be a highly-sought after player in a few weeks.

McCarron recently joined ESPN’s Adam Schefter on his podcast to talk about a myriad of topics, including the fact that he was never presented with the opportunity to compete with Andy Dalton for the Bengals’ starting quarterback gig.

When asked about what he’s looking for in a team during the impending free agency period, McCarron simply pointed to said opportunity.

“I think, you know, just a chance to compete—that’s all I ever wanted. Coming into Cincinnati, ‘AD’ (Andy Dalton) had been there about five years or so, and I knew it wasn’t going to be an open competition,” McCarron said. “And AD’s an unbelievable quarterback, he taught me so much in my four years there. I’m just looking for the chance to compete, be a face of an organization, show them how I can lead a team, rally the troops...”

On one hand, this isn’t exactly a surprising, as we knew Cincinnati initially drafted McCarron to be the team’s backup in the 2014 class. There are many similarities to both quarterbacks’ respective styles of play, and the Bengals specifically drafted McCarron as an insurance policy for the offense, as they wouldn’t need to totally change its style should Dalton be out of the lineup.

“I think it’s a blessing in disguise, really and truly,” McCarron said when asked about the level of difficulty in sitting behind Dalton for four years. “Just because being at “Bama and being ‘the guy’ for so long, falling in the draft the way I did—I think my wife said it best: it humbled me, it taught me patience more than I could ever imagine.”

“It’s always tough as a competitor to sit there and see how things are going, or whatever the case is and wanting your opportunity to play,” McCarron continued. “I think the thing is to be ready and make the most of it. That’s what I tried to do in ‘15 (after Dalton’s Week 14 injury) when I was given an opportunity.

On the other hand of the competition discussion with the Bengals, McCarron did nearly lead Cincinnati to its first playoff win since 1991 and what would have been one of the franchise’s biggest wins in history. We say “lead” very loosely, as McCarron didn’t exactly have an outstanding statistical game against the Steelers, but he did throw a late touchdown pass as the Bengals held the lead late in the contest.

“We were so close to getting Cincy their first playoff win in a while. That playoff game—just kind of battling through the whole outcome,“ McCarron said while reminiscing about his limited pro tape with Schefter. “That was my first rain game ever. So, it took a while to decide what I wanted and whether I wanted a glove or not. I think when you watch those games (his four career NFL starts), I think you see a never-give-up attitude”.

It’s going to be interesting to see which teams are interested in the McCarron sweepstakes and how they value him with that limited tape. Regardless, it appears the Bengals lost out on some solid opportunities to deal McCarron for more draft collateral before this arbitration decision, either with the Browns or in a failed negotiation with the Jets.

By all indications, McCarron is going elsewhere in free agency and the Bengals will be looking for another quarterback this offseason. Given McCarron’s comments on the position being closed to any competition, we’re assuming that whoever comes into replace him will also be facing the same uphill battle for playing time behind Dalton.