We have some breaking divisional news today. The Cincinnati Bengals at the trade deadline last season attempted to deal their backup quarterback, AJ McCarron, to the Cleveland Browns, and now they will wish that they had. Mediators have ruled that he is entitled to become an unrestricted free agent next month.
Source: #Bengals QB AJ McCarron won his grievance against the team. He’ll be a free agent.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 15, 2018
McCarron was a fifth-round draft pick by the Bengals out of Alabama in 2014, but he spent the majority of his rookie season on the Non-Football Injury List, the team citing shoulder soreness for his placement there. The quarterback’s camp argued that he was healthy enough to be activated from the list at a time early enough that would have allowed him to accrue a season during his rookie year.
Prior to today’s ruling, McCarron was considered to only have accrued three NFL seasons, meaning that he would not have been an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Instead, he would have still been tied to the Bengals as a restricted free agent, where they could have tendered him in order to have protection against losing him. Reportedly, the team was considering tendering him at the second-round level.
Now he will soon be free to sign with any team, and one obvious target would be the Browns, who already attempted to acquire him via trade, purportedly willing to give up second- and third-round drafts pick for him.
The Browns have previously attempted to trade for Jimmy Garropolo and Alex Smith, both of whom were successfully traded for. They did successfully agree to terms on a trade for McCarron, but they managed to botch the paperwork end of the deal, and it fell through prior to the expiration of the trade deadline during the 2017 regular season.
McCarron’s most notable playing time occurred in 2015, when the Bengals’ starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, suffered a thumb injury toward the end of the season that knocked him out for the rest of the year.
His backup played in five games, including the postseason, starting four of them. During four regular-season games, he completed 79 of 119 passes for 854 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions with a quarterback rating of 97.1.
McCarron faced the Pittsburgh Steelers twice in that season, including for the majority of the game in which Dalton was injured. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
He was also the quarterback when he faced the Steelers in the postseason, only completing 23 of 41 passes for 212 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception in the losing effort. He also fumbled three times in that game, losing one.