Top 5 landing spots for AJ McCarron to thrive as a starting NFL quarterback

Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron won a grievance with the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

So far, McCarron has served as Andy Dalton’s backup in Cincinnati. But the national championship-winning quarterback hopes to accomplish more than that.

“Just really excited that I get that opportunity now and I just can’t wait to just showcase what I can do and show a team that I can lead a team and win ballgames,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The news gives way to an intriguing question: Where will McCarron land?

Quality NFL quarterbacks are tough to find, and over half the league would probably like to see its quarterback situation improve. But how many teams would see an improvement with McCarron under center?

The sample size is small, but he has been decent when called upon. He’s 2-1 as a starter in four seasons with the Bengals, with all three of those starts coming in 2015. In 11 career appearances, McCaron has completed 65 percent of his passes for 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He’s thrown for 920 yards, which nearly all came in seven appearances in 2015. In two of his four NFL seasons (2014 and 2016) McCarron didn’t take a single snap.

Still, the 27-year-old could provide value to a team that needs a starting quarterback — especially if that team is looking to take a raw prospect like Sam Darnold or Josh Allen in this year’s NFL Draft.

Here are five potential landing spots for McCarron:

5. New York Jets

The New York Jets haven’t exactly been a model NFL franchise recently, but they are in play for McCarron here. Their No. 1 target is likely Kirk Cousins, but failing that, McCarron could be their guy. The Jets also have the No. 6 overall pick and seem likely to pick one of the top four quarterbacks in the draft, assuming one falls to them. If they go that route, McCarron could serve as a short term bridge while the Jets develop their QB of the future.

From McCarron’s side of things, this wouldn’t be ideal. Dealing with the New York media would be a downside, but the Jets just don’t have other complimentary pieces that would make him successful.

4. Cleveland Browns

The Browns are in perpetual need for a quarterback, and McCarron could be their guy if they decide to address other needs with their first round draft picks. Cleveland has the No. 1 and No. 4 overall selections, and it’s likely to take a quarterback with one of those picks, but that wouldn’t necessarily rule out McCarron. The overall talent on the Browns roster is improving, and McCarron probably wouldn’t mind facing the Bengals twice per year.

3. Denver Broncos

Denver was horrific at quarterback in 2017, and fixing that position is priority No. 1 for John Elway and the Broncos’ front office. Denver has been linked to other free agent quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum, but with McCarron on the market, he could be a cheaper option while Denver develops a potential franchise quarterback from the draft. Denver has the No. 5 overall pick and has been linked to rookies Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield.

It’s possible all three of the quarterbacks that saw action in 2017 — Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler — will be off the roster by the time 2018 rolls around. If the Broncos are ready to move on from that trifecta, picking up McCarron to be the primary starter next season would be a solid move. And for McCarron, going to a franchise that has a winning history and a solid defense would be very beneficial.

2. Buffalo Bills

For some reason, the Buffalo Bills are looking for a quarterback again. They seem likely to release Tyrod Taylor ahead of free agency, rather than pay him $18 million in 2018. And behind Taylor, who consistently puts up decent numbers and led the Bills to the playoffs this year, is Nathan Peterman, who did neither of those things.

The Bills don’t have a top pick in the draft, but they could take a prospect like Mason Rudolph or Lamar Jackson in the early rounds. Regardless, McCarron would be a great pickup for the Bills as they look to build toward another playoff appearance.

1. Arizona Cardinals

Arizona is hitting the reset button after Carson Palmer announced his retirement this offseason. The Cardinals have known this day was coming for awhile — Palmer was often injured — but now they need a reliable quarterback of the future more than ever before. Arizona is a stable organization with one of the NFL’s most respected super stars in receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and would be a great spot for McCarron.

The Cardinals figure to be active in finding a quarterback in the draft as well, but they have other needs. If they decide to take a project quarterback later in the draft, McCaron could be just what they need.

The post Top 5 landing spots for AJ McCarron to thrive as a starting NFL quarterback appeared first on SEC Country.

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