An independent arbiter has ruled in favor of AJ McCarron in his grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals, according to a Tweet from NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, meaning the quarterback will be an unrestricted free agent this season.
That means he is free to sign with any team, including the Bengals, which isn’t likely given Andy Dalton’s hold on the starting job and McCarron’s desire to play.
“As a competitor, you just see other guys playing and you want your chance to be able to showcase what you can truly do,” McCarron said on Jan. 2, the day after the season-finale at Baltimore.
“Like I’ve said before,” McCarron continued, “God’s plan doesn’t work out when we want it to. It’s on His time. I’ve always truly believed that, and my wife always does an excellent job of reminding me that, and it’s just something you’ve got to buy into and trust and realize.”
The Bengals could still hang on to McCarron by applying the transition or franchise tag to him, but that is not likely given the salary numbers that would accompany such a move ($19 million to transition tag a quarterback in 2017 and $21.3 million for franchise tag).
In addition to another team giving him a substantially larger salary than the $690,000 he earned in 2017, McCarron will receive back pay from the Bengals, according to Rapoport.
McCarron started three games in four seasons with the Bengals, all of which came at the end of the 2015 season after Dalton broke his thumb.
McCarron was 2-1 as a starter, completing 54 of 83 passes for 554 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 100.1.
The grievance stemmed from McCarron’s rookie season, when the Bengals incorrectly, as the arbiter ruled, stashed on the Non-Football Injury list, preventing him from accruing a season of service toward unrestricted free agency. Had McCarron lost the grievance, the Bengals could have matched another’s team offer to keep McCarron, or they could elect to receive compensation of either a first-, second- or fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft depending on what type of offer they would have tendered him beginning March 14.
By winning the ruling, McCarron is free to begin negotiating with other teams at 4 p.m. March 12, and he can sign a contract beginning at 4 p.m. March 14.
If he signs with another team, the Bengals still are expected to receive a 2019 compensatory pick. Given the salary McCarron is expected to attract, that likely will be a third-round pick, although the league’s 32 compensatory picks for the 2019 draft will not be announced until next February.
McCarron’s departure would leave Jeff Driskel as Dalton’s backup. Driskel, according to the team website, is believed to have suffered a broken left (non-throwing) arm in practice during the final week of the regular season. Driskel was on Injured Reserve at the time after breaking his right thumb in the preseason finale. He was cleared to practice with three weeks remaining in the regular season.