AJ McCarron is a free man. On Feb. 15, the Alabama alum received word from his agent that he had won his grievance against Bengals and the team’s decision to put him on the non-football injury list at the start of 2014.
That decision likely ends his time with the Bengals. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent on March 14 when the new league year begins.
The former quarterback led Alabama to back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2014 National Football League draft.
McCarron, who has backed up Andy Dalton for the past four seasons, played in three games in 2017, completing 50 percent of his passes on 14 attempts. He did not throw a touchdown or an interception.
His most extensive action came in 2015 when McCarron started four games, including a playoff game for the Bengals. McCarron went 2-1 in the regular season, throwing six touchdowns against two interceptions, completed 66.4 percent of his passes and had a 97.1 passer rating. In a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, McCarron threw for 212 yards with one touchdown and one pick.
NFL teams in search of a potential starting quarterback will be interested in McCarron. He’s expected to be looking for an opportunity to compete for a starting job.
Here are five potential (and rumored) fits for McCarron.
This seems like an obvious fit. Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals for McCarron’s first two NFL seasons. He has an affection for the QB and the team almost traded for him at the trade deadline.
The Browns have two of the top four picks in the NFL draft in April. There is a strong possibility the Browns draft a quarterback with one of those picks. The question would be if McCarron would be comfortable competing for the starting job with a rookie.
The Browns reportedly have $110 million in salary cap space, so money would not be an issue in Cleveland for McCarron.
Carson Palmer‘s retirement means the Cardinals will be looking for their next franchise QB. Could it be McCarron? Throwing to future hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald would be an ideal situation for a young QB.
Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback predicted a McCarron-to-Arizona scenario in an article earlier this week.
Arizona: A.J. McCarron. This would, of course, break Hue Jackson’s heart. But I just think the alternatives for McCarron are these: Go to Cleveland, and risk the Browns drafting a quarterback high in the first round, and risk being in the same place he was in Cincinnati, behind Andy Dalton, for the next three or four years … or go to Arizona (or another spot that won’t draft a passer high) and be handed the starting job on a team with a playoff defense. Not a very tough choice in my mind.
New York Jets:
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN, the Jets passed up an opportunity to acquire McCarron last off-season when the Bengals approached them with a trade proposal. Will the Jets change their tune this off-season?
Cimini only sees the Jets being an option for the McCarron if the Jets miss out on fellow free agent Kirk Cousins. A scout told Cimini he sees McCarron as a game manager, something McCarron is accustomed to being called from his time at Alabama.
Could McCarron sign with John Elway and the Broncos? They too seem like they are going to prioritize Cousins first and look at McCarron as the fallback option.
If McCarron did sign with the Broncos, he would walk into an ideal situation. The quarterbacks on the roster have struggled (Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian), or are unproven (Chad Kelly), the offensive weapons are already on the roster and the defense is usually near the top of the league.
McCarron would likely be expected to be a game manager with the Broncos, a team that could go from picking fifth in the draft to a playoff team instantly with solid quarterback play.
The Vikings are the most intriguing team on the list. They have three starting caliber quarterbacks on the roster last season in Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater. All three are free agents this off-season.
According to Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press, McCarron is the backup plan for Minnesota in the case that the team does not re-sign Keenum.
The Vikings are fresh off a run to the NFC Championship game and have a loaded offense. Stefon Diggs, brother of Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs, is best known for the Minnesota Miracle, is an up-and-coming receiver.