Now that quarterback A.J. McCarron has been granted unrestricted free agent status, there’s essentially no chance the Bengals will seek to re-sign him for the 2018 season. Cincinnati will likely collect a compensatory draft pick in 2019 as a result of losing McCarron, but the Bengals need to solidify their backup quarterback position in the near-term, as Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. With starter Andy Dalton locked up through the 2020 campaign, the Bengals could add a developmental signal-caller — as they did when selecting McCarron in the fifth round of the 2014 draft — or ink a veteran backup.
At present, 2016 sixth-rounder Jeff Driskel is Cincinnati’s No. 2 quarterback, but it’s unclear if the Bengals will trust Driskel to serve as Dalton’s backup next year. Per Owczarski, the Bengals asked Driskel to take practice reps at wide receiver heading into their 2017 regular-season finale. Driskel did so, but broke his left arm making a leaping, one-handed catch. He’s undergone surgery, and should be ready for offseason workouts in April.
Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:
- While veteran defender Clay Matthews has been viewed as a potential candidate for release, the Packers and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could see enough value in Matthews to stave off a parting of ways, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “When you can move guys around and trade jobs, not just within game but week to week, because a big part of offense is identifying who the rushers are and what positions they’re playing,” said Pettine in discussing Matthews’ ability to play inside and outside linebacker. “When you have guys like that, the creative part, you can do a lot more with those players.” Matthews ranked as the league’s No. 27 edge defender in 2017, per Pro Football Focus, which assigned the 31-year-old his highest grade since 2012. The Packers could clear the entirety of Matthews’ ~$11.369MM cap charge by cutting him this offseason.
- A number of key Bears players have roster bonuses and guarantees due on March 16, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. While defensive end Akiem Hicks ($3MM bonus), guard Kyle Long ($5MM bonus), and tackle Bobby Massie ($1MM bonus) are likely to be retained, the same can’t be said for several other veterans. Tight end Dion Sims, cornerback Marcus Cooper, linebacker Willie Young, safety Quintin Demps, and quarterback Mike Glennon will be due guarantees or bonuses in mid-March, meaning Chicago will have to make decisions on their respective fates. The Bears currently rank 11th in 2018 salary cap space with more than $41MM available, but the club could increase that figure to greater than $70MM by releasing Sims et al.
- Don’t expect the Browns to shift left guard Joel Bitonio to left tackle if Joe Thomas does indeed retire this offseason, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland (Twitter link). Bitonio started all 16 games at left guard for the Browns last season. He does have experience at left tackle, though. Bitonio played left tackle at Nevada before being taken by the Browns with the 35th overall pick of the 2014 draft. Thomas is still undecided on if he’ll return in 2018 after missing the first nine games of his 11-year career last season.
- In case you missed it, the Vikings recently hired former Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing as a senior offensive assistant. Downing, 37, is a Minnesota native, and will be joining ex-Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo as new additions to the Vikings’ offensive staff.
Ryan Posner contributed to this report.