One of the storylines as it pertained to the free agent quarterback market is whether or not Bengals backup AJ McCarron would be a restricted or unrestricted free agent when the new league year opens March 14.
That question was answered today as the independent arbitrator ruled in favor of McCarron in a grievance case he filed against the Cincinnati Bengals.
McCarron filed the grievance last year after the Bengals kept him on the non-football injury list for much of his rookie year which didn’t count towards an accrued season towards free agency. He was healthy enough to come off the list earlier during the 2014 season but Cincinnati kept him on the list until December of that year.
He’s won the hearing and will now become an unrestricted free agent in an offseason where there’s a lot of teams who are needing a quarterback whether it’s a long term solution or as a bridge to an eventual rookie quarterback.
One of those teams is of course the Cleveland Browns who seem to be on a yearly search for a long term solution at the position. With the team holding the first and fourth overall picks in April’s NFL Draft, Cleveland is in the market for a short term veteran option and McCarron fits that mold.
McCarron nearly became a Cleveland Brown last October at the trade deadline when the two teams agreed to a trade that would’ve sent a second and third round draft pick to Cincinnati for the quarterback but when paperwork didn’t get filed in time, the deal was never completed.
The 27 year old was very emotional about it following the deadline as he expressed the desire to have his opportunity once again as an NFL starting quarterback but to also get out of Cincinnati who seemed to be holding him hostage with this free agency situation.
After not acquiring Alex Smith from Kansas City, it seems that the next option for Cleveland is to sign AJ McCarron to a short term contract and for him to be the starter while the rookie selected at the top of the NFL Draft sits and is groomed by the offensive coaching staff.
McCarron seems to have a great relationship with head coach Hue Jackson as it was Jackson who was likely part of the process to select him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft while Jackson was offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Jackson was also the driving force behind the Browns attempting to acquire him at the trade deadline.
The two also embraced pregame before the Browns and Bengals faced off in their Week 12 matchup, just weeks after the deadline debacle and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was also involved in that discussion.
The one question I have is how does general manager John Dorsey feel about McCarron? I think he will have the ultimate say over who the veteran quarterback will be and despite Jackson’s relationship with McCarron, at the end of the day Dorsey should be looking at getting the best veteran out there who’s going to help the Browns win but also be a good mentor to the rookie.
It’s been rumored that McCarron has a bit of an attitude and while he’s anxious to get his chance starting quarterback in this league, he should know that wherever he ends up, he’s not the long term solution to that team’s quarterback situation.
He showed flashes when he had an opportunity to start four games including a postseason game at the end of the 2015 season completing 62% of his passes for 764 yards, five touchdowns and an interception in those four starts.
It also looks like the Browns will have competition for his services. It was reported on Wednesday that the Denver Broncos will also be looking at McCarron which would seem to be their backup plan if they can’t land Kirk Cousins as they’re looking like the front runners to land his services.
Although it’s not a foregone conclusion, I wouldn’t be surprised if AJ McCarron ends up the next quarterback of the Cleveland Browns come mid-March.