McCarron was granted free agency this offseason after an arbitration hearing ruled in his favor Feb. 15, finally allowing him the opportunity to seek out a long-awaited opportunity for a starting gig. Most of the openings were filled during the legal tampering period that started Monday, but the Bills finally found the direct successor to Tyrod Taylor in the opening hours of the new league year. During his time in Cincinnati, McCarron had three dalliances as a starter in 2015, completing 65 percent (54 of 83) of his passes for 552 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in those contests.
The Bengals contended that McCarron, a 2014 fifth-round pick, should be a restricted free agent this offseason after failing to accrue enough time on the team's active roster during his rookie campaign to qualify for unrestricted free agency. McCarron had spent most of that season on the Bengals' Non-Football Injury list due to a shoulder issue that impacted his throwing during Organized Team Activities, but the quarterback believed he could have come off the NFI list during training camp and that his activation was wrongfully delayed. After McCarron received the favorable ruling in arbitration, the Bengals won't be able to tender him the standard one-year contract for restricted free agents heading into their fourth season, thereby allowing the 27-year-old pursue a more sizable deal on the open market, and potentially, the opportunity to compete for a starting role. McCarron shouldn't have trouble securing a multi-year contract after the Browns made a major push to acquire him last fall, reportedly agreeing to send second- and third-round picks to the Bengals before the deal was nixed due to Cleveland's failure to submit paperwork for the trade in a timely fashion.
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 agreed to trade McCarron to Cleveland, but the Browns failed to send documentation to the NFL prior to Tuesday's 4 p.m. EDT trade deadline, Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
McCarron was the subject of offseason trade talks, with one report suggesting that the Bengals wanted a first-round pick in return. According to Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com, the Browns were willing to give up second- and third-round picks for the quarterback, but didn't notify the league of the agreement prior to the deadline. McCarron is thus in line to remain Andy Dalton's backup for the rest of the season and await a shot at a starting job in 2018. The Bengals may have missed their chance to pull off a trade, as McCarron is in the fourth and final season of his rookie contract. However, he spent most of his rookie season on the non-football injury list, which could allow the Bengals to retain him as a restricted free agent, depending on an arbitrator's ruling. Either way, McCarron likely will end up in a different uniform next season.
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.
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