Quarterback A.J. McCarron has won his grievance against the Bengals, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and finally get his opportunity to be a starting quarterback.
McCarron has not seen a lot of playing time behind Andy Dalton, but he has impressed in a limited sample. In the final four games of 2015, when Dalton was out with an injury, he passed for 832 yards and six touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Last year, the Bengals were able to keep McCarron at a very modest $735K cap number. Had they been able to tag him as a restricted free agent with the first-round tender, they would have been able to either retain him for about $4MM or acquire a first-round pick from the team signing him. Instead, McCarron will hit free agency completely unfettered, making a return to the Bengals unlikely. Already, head coach Marvin Lewis has dismissed the idea of moving on from Dalton as the team’s starter this season and the Bengals can’t afford to give McCarron starter-type money.
In addition to winning UFA status, McCarron will also collect on lost salary from the 2014 season, with interest (Twitter link via Rapoport). In that season, McCarron was placed on the NFI list due to a shoulder injury.
This year’s unrestricted free agent QB class was already shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory and the addition of McCarron makes it even stronger. Kirk Cousins is the unanimous top draw, but Vikings QBs Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater are also scheduled to reach the open market in March. Technically speaking, Saints QB Drew Brees is also a free agent, but he is widely expected to re-sign with the club before things open up next month.
Beyond those free agents, there’s also likely trade candidate Tyrod Taylor and a handful of intriguing QB prospects in this year’s draft. Teams with uncertainty under center like the Jets, Broncos, Browns, and Cardinals couldn’t ask for more in the way of options.
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