CINCINNATI (AP) — AJ McCarron won his grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals and will become an unrestricted free agent next month, making him one of the more attractive quarterbacks on the market.
McCarron challenged the Bengals’ decision to put him on a non-football injury list as a rookie in 2014, when the fifth-round pick had a sore passing shoulder. The move meant that the season wouldn’t count toward free agency and McCarron would have to stick around as Andy Dalton’s backup for one more year in 2018.
Instead, an independent arbitrator ruled in McCarron’s favor on Thursday, a decision announced by the NFL players’ association.
The Bengals could keep him for one more season by applying a transition or franchise tag, which is highly unlikely given the cost. Instead, the 27-year-old McCarron is set to find a place where he can start.
Could it be Cleveland?
The Browns arranged a deal for McCarron shortly before the trade deadline on Oct. 31 but failed to submit the paperwork on time, scuttling the trade. Browns coach Hue Jackson was McCarron’s offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, giving him a firsthand assessment of the quarterback’s abilities.
The Browns went 0-16 last season with rookie DeShone Kizer struggling. They’re looking for stability at their most elusive position.
McCarron was a two-time national champion at Alabama. The Bengals drafted him to be Dalton’s backup, and he rarely played except in the preseason. During his four seasons, McCarron has appeared in only 11 games, most of them in the final minutes with a lopsided score.
His career-turning opportunity came in December 2015, when Dalton broke the thumb on his passing hand. McCarron started the last three games and led the Bengals to the playoffs. He then rallied the Bengals in a first-round game against Pittsburgh and had them in position to get their first playoff victory since the 1990 season, but Jeremy Hill fumbled and penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones set up the Steelers for a winning field goal in the final seconds.
In four seasons, McCarron has completed 86 of 133 passes for 920 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Bengals have Jeff Driskel as a backup to Dalton. He broke his hand in the preseason and was on an injury list. Driskel hasn’t played in a regular season game during his two seasons in Cincinnati.
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