By Nick Shook
Read full post on NFL.com
AJ McCarron is heading toward employment freedom.
McCarron has won his grievance against his current team, the Cincinnati Bengals, and will become an unrestricted free agent with the new league year in March, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source informed. McCarron is also due lost salary with interest from the 2014 season, Rapoport added.
McCarron’s grievance centered on whether his first season in the NFL, which included a long stint on the non-football injury list, counted as a year of service and thus granted him unrestricted free agent status at the conclusion of the 2017 season. With free agency now granted, the former fifth-round pick of the Bengals will be free to leave for a team of his choice for what is expected to be significant, starting quarterback money.
“First and foremost I’m extremely thankful to the Brown family for believing in me,” McCarron said, via a story on the team’s official site. “Coach (Marvin) Lewis and all the coaches that were there when they drafted me, I can’t thank them enough. A lot teams passed on me before I went in the fifth round. I’ve got a lot of precious memories from my four years there.”
The quarterback has long been linked to the Cleveland Browns, thanks to his success in limited action while operating an offense called by then-offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who is entering year three of his tenure as Cleveland’s head coach. With McCarron under center in place of injured starter Andy Dalton in 2015, the quarterback completed 99 of 156 passes for 1,044 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. As a starter, McCarron posted a 2-2 record, including a rain-soaked playoff game in which Cincinnati was on the verge of winning before a late-game meltdown put Pittsburgh in positionfor a game-winning field goal.
The intrigue didn’t die with Cincinnati’s playoff ambitions, as Jackson’s Browns attempted to trade for McCarron in the final minutes before the 2017 trade deadline but infamously failed to submit the proper paperwork in time. The connection and pursuit will likely only grow stronger as McCarron heads toward free agency with a public desire to become a starter and Cleveland enters the same period flush with nearly endless cap space.
This ruling also creates a need at backup quarterback for Cincinnati, a position about which the Bengals haven’t had to worry since 2014.
McCarron was a fifth-round pick of the Bengals in the 2014 draft out of Alabama, where he won three national championships, including two as a starter. He entered as a backup to Dalton, a role he filled for the majority of his pro career. In the moments in which he was granted a chance to shine, McCarron looked the part of an NFL starter.
He’ll get such a chance in 2018. We’ll find out whether it’s in Cleveland or somewhere else in March.