McCarron will receive an arbitration ruling Feb. 15 on his grievance to become an unrestricted free agent, Laurel Pfahler of the Dayton Daily News reports. A fifth-round pick out of Alabama in 2014, McCarron never accrued an official rookie season after beginning his career on the reserve/Non-Football Injury list before joining the 53-man roster for only three regular-season and one postseason contest that year. Since players must accrue four NFL seasons before reaching unrestricted free agency, McCarron is eager to have his status changed this offseason due to the higher leverage he would have in negotiations for a new contract. If the Bengals lose their rights to McCarron, he would likely pursue his options elsewhere in pursuit of a more legitimate starting opportunity.
The Bengals aren't willing to trade McCarron for anything less than a first-round pick, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reports. Head coach Marvin Lewis said last month a trade is unlikely, as the Bengals seemingly value McCarron more than any other team does. The 26-year-old quarterback did a nice job filling in for an injured Andy Dalton late in the 2015 season, but he wasn't so impressive as to justify parting ways with a first-round pick. McCarron's value does get a boost from the possibility his 2014 campaign won't count as an accrued season, which would allow the team to keep him on his rookie contract through 2018. The 2014 fifth-round selection was on the Non-Football Injury list until Week 14 as a rookie while he recovered from a lingering shoulder issue he suffered before joining the team. McCarron doesn't expect to get a decision on the contract issue until next year, and he said he's at peace with his current situation in Cincinnati, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. While he'd probably prefer to be traded to a team which would give him a shot at the starting job, he still reported for the start of the Bengals' offseason program.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the team hasn't received any offers for McCarron and doesn't plan to seek out a trade, the team's official website reports. "AJ McCarron is a valuable member of our football team," Lewis said. "No one has asked to trade him. We're not going to go out and seek a trade for AJ McCarron. He's a valuable member of the team. We've said that how many times?" There seems to be a general understanding around the league that the Bengals want more in return for McCarron than what anyone is willing to pay, though it isn't out of the question that a team like Cleveland or Houston could come up with a surprisingly strong offer if they miss out on other targets in free agency and/or the draft. McCarron does have experience working with Browns head coach Hue Jackson, who served as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015. The Browns also have an impressive stockpile of draft picks -- including three of the first 33 selections in the upcoming draft -- but they'd probably prefer to use one of those on a young quarterback rather than trading it for the 26-year-old McCarron. Another year as Andy Dalton's backup is likely in the cards.
McCarron's trade value could increase if the Patriots are not willing to trade Jimmy Garappolo, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Garoppolo is the obvious target for any franchise seeking a young backup quarterback, but the Patriots may be asking for a price beyond what other teams are willing to pay. While McCarron could likely be had for a lesser bounty, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin made it clear the team still values its 26-year-old backup, who filled in capably for an injured Andy Dalton late in the 2015 season. A 2014 fifth-round selection, McCarron is currently slated to become a restricted free agent in 2018, but an unresolved contract issue could push that back to 2019, which would further increase his trade value.
McCarron completed 11-of-16 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in Friday's preseason opener against the Vikings. The former Alabama quarterback is a clear second to Andy Dalton on Cincinnati's depth chart. He looked impressive in a late second quarter touchdown drive, but is unlikely to see meaningful regular season action unless Dalton gets injured.
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