Cleveland Browns: Deep dive into AJ McCarron’s free agency status

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 19: Quarterback AJ McCarron (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 19: Quarterback AJ McCarron (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

With Cleveland Browns QB target Alex Smith getting dealt to the Redskins, more importance surrounds A.J. McCarron‘s hearing on the status of his free agency.

The Cleveland Browns will likely be looking to draft their quarterback of the future with the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They would like to add a quarterback who can play and produce right away so that they can redshirt their rookie quarterback and win some games in 2018.

Smith was mentioned in connection with the Browns because of new GM John Dorsey, who traded for Smith when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.

Another quarterback linked to the Browns is Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. Browns head coach Hue Jackson coached McCarron in Cincinnati and the Browns had a trade in place to acquire him in 2017, but failed to get the proper paperwork submitted to the NFL league office on time. Currently their is uncertainty surrounding McCarron’s free agency status this offseason.

McCarron filed a grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals organization in 2017, asking to be deemed an unrestricted free agent, rather than his currently scheduled status as an restricted free agent.

The grievance originated back in his rookie season in 2014, when he was a drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals. McCarron passed his post-draft physical, however the Bengals still placed him on the non-football injury list due to a shoulder issue before the start of training camp.

According to ESPN, McCarron feels that he was healthy during training camp and should have been taken off of the non-football injury list. This would have allowed McCarron to participate and accrue a season toward free agency. As it was, the Bengals didn’t add him to their active roster until December 9th, which didn’t leave him enough time to accrue a season towards his free agency.

A player’s season counts towards his free agency if he is eligible to be active in at least six games, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The league has scheduled McCarron’s hearing for February 15th, according to Rob Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer.   

Sources told ESPN that an arbitrator will rule on McCarron’s status. If McCarron is granted his petition, he will be an unrestricted free agent when the NFL league year begins on March 14.

The Browns should be hoping for this outcome. They would then be able to obtain his services with a healthy contract offer.  McCarron wants out of Cincinnati so that he can pursue the opportunity to start somewhere, per  If they see fit, the Browns may be the team to give him that chance, in the form of their “Bridge” quarterback. The Browns will certainly address the position at the top of the draft and would ideally not have to start him right away.

More from Factory of Sadness

If the arbitrator rules against McCarron, he will remain a restricted free agent and the Bengals would presumably place a first-round tender on him. This would make it problematic for the Browns to sign him away to an offer sheet, per ESPN.

The Browns would have to surrender a first-round draft pick, compensating the Bengals for their tender. Needless to say, this would likely prove to be an adequate deterrent for teams interested in McCarron, including the Browns.

McCarron has played in 10 games for the Bengals, going 86-of-133 for 920 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, per

Just a week ago at the 2018 Senior Bowl, Scott Dryden of ‘The Browns Scout Podcast’ reported that multiple sources from within the Bengals organization are very high on McCarron and question whether Andy Dalton should be the team’s starter.

Chris Simms, in an article for Bleacher Report, called for a competition when Cincinnati takes to the practice field in preparation of the 2018 season, should McCarron find himself wearing stripes for another year.

"“It’s time for the Bengals to open up the quarterback competition. Andy Dalton has done some good things, but at this point, we know what he is. McCarron has shown promise and that he is capable of leading Cincinnati on a postseason run. If Jeremy Hill didn’t fumble a couple of years ago against the Steelers, McCarron would have a playoff victory on his resume.”"

Andy Dalton, who arguably had his best years with Browns head coach Hue Jackson as his offfensive coordinator, is done with the guaranteed portion of his contract.

He’s due $13.7 million in 2018, all of which is non-guaranteed. The Bengals could move Dalton without any salary cap ramifications, according to ESPN.

One of the two veteran quarterbacks most closely linked to the Browns already has a new home and the league year hasn’t even begun. As we turn our attention to the rest of the potential answers at quarterback, keep your eye on February 15th and the outcome of McCarron’s hearing.

The Browns could be looking for a short term solution while they groom their quarterback of the future. McCarron just wants a chance to play. The Browns can give him that opportunity, allowing him to prove himself to the NFL, while they get their “bridge” quarterback that can help them win some games.

A connection between the two could be beneficial for both sides. However, McCarron needs a win with the arbitrator and to be granted unrestricted free agent status first.

Next: Post Senior Bowl mock draft: Round 1