A minor non-Pittsburgh Steelers story that I have been following over the course of the past several months—really, for about the past year—is the future of soon-to-be former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron. The Cleveland Browns attempted twice to trade for him, which was a major story, but there was another one brewing under the surface.
The 2014 fifth-round pick filed a grievance against the Bengals, arguing that they unnecessarily kept him on the Non-Football Injury List during his rookie season, a decision that prevented him from acquiring a season of accrued experience, which would have prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
Yesterday, McCarron’s grievance was ruled upon, and the ruling came in his favor, so he will now be receiving backpay from the time he missed during his rookie season while healthy on the NFI list, and, more importantly, he will now be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year less than a month from now.
The four-year veteran called it “a blessing”, saying that “it’s just awesome just to be free now and to hopefully get that opportunity and be able to compete somewhere. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’m just super excited. Just really excited that I get that opportunity now and I just can’t wait to just showcase what I can do and show a team that I can lead a team and win ballgames”.
The Bengals and Browns successfully negotiated terms for a trade that would sent him to the latter in exchange for second- and third-round draft picks, but the trade fell through when the Browns failed to send in the paperwork directly to the league prior to the deadline.
McCarron lamented the failure of that trade and the presumed loss of his opportunity to start. At the time, he did not know whether or not he would be allowed to become an unrestricted free agent, so the failure of the trade potentially represented another full season of purgatory serving as Andy Dalton’s backup with nor opportunity to compete for the starting job.
“We’re going to be open to everything”, McCarron said of his now optimistic future. “It’s not about the money for me. I just love playing football. Making the money is great but I just want to play. That’s what I grew up on. that’s what you’re raised on. Like here in the south, you’re raised to love football. It’s not about money. I just want to play”.
He said that he will play for “whoever gives me an opportunity”, adding that he’s “not going to chase the huge contract and be put in a situation that I might not be one hundred percent comfortable with just because it’s a lot more money or whatever. I want to go somewhere where I can win and help the team win and we have a bright future together. I’m just super excited for this next chapter”.
Of course, any team that is going to give him an opportunity to start is going to give him a big contract. That’s just the way the quarterback position works in the NFL today. “I love my time in Cincinnati”, he said, essentially saying goodbye to the organization that drafted him.