What Should The Bengals Do With AJ McCarron?


What are the Bengals plans with AJ McCarron now that they’ve committed to Andy Dalton long-term? Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As of Monday the Bengals were finally able to complete a deal with Andy Dalton and end the endless debate amongst fans as to what the team should do with him. But now the team (and fans alike) will turn their attention to the Bengals other young quarterback, 2014 fifth-round selection AJ McCarron. With the team having made a firm commitment to Dalton, the options for McCarron in the immediate future have opened up a bit leaving the Bengals with a choice.

The Bengals drafted McCarron due to his football IQ and ability to win the big games; evidenced by his multiple championships at Alabama. But the Bengsls have been unable to get much information since the draft on their young quarterback. McCarron has been dealing with shoulder tightness and hasn’t thrown much this off-season as he’s struggled to recover; he did return briefly once already but suffered at set back and hasn’t practiced since. It’s because of this that in a recent article Geoff Hobson mentions the question of McCarron going onto the IR. This made me think about the best options with McCarron going forward as I’ve also considered whether or not the Bengals should even keep a third quarterback on the roster for 2014. They committed to Dalton long-term and possess both a great mentor and arguably the best backup in the league in Jason Campbell. So why keep a third quarterback?

It seems to me that the best option going forward may actually be to put McCarron on the IR for the year and save the roster spot for another player.

With regards to McCarron, it’s highly unlikely that he would see the field in 2014 anyway as, even if Dalton were to get hurt, Campbell knows Hue Jackson’s system well and enjoy success within it, albeit briefly, while starting for Jackson in Oakland. McCarron will need the year to learn the system and adjust to NFL life and the Bengals were going to use this plan with McCarron from the start; even upon his selection, the team was always going to at least allow Dalton play out his rookie deal.

The downside for McCarron would be his inability to practice all years. Players who are placed on IR can remain with the team, but are unable to practice. Admittedly it’s always better to allow a guy to get on the field, but first a team must have the available reps to do so. With Dalton taking up as many reps as possible–it’s a well known fact that starting quarterbacks don’t easily allow for reps to be taken by any other quarterbacks; see Brian Hoyer’s comments on Tom Brady–and Jason Campbell taking the little that’s left over to build some rapport with the receivers in case of an emergency, then how many reps could McCarron really get anyway. His shoulder injury has probably placed him behind Campbell permanently as he was far from a lock to beat out Campbell for the backup role to begin with. It seems likely that his year will be filled with observing and playbook studies all while adorning a headset, so what’s the point in having him do so while taking up a roster spot?

Arguably more importantly, the team would then be able to use the extra roster spot on a player who can contribute now while also keeping that potential player from being scooped up by another team. This Bengals roster is loaded with talent and inevitably they will release some quality players to the free agent pool or will place them on their practice squad; either way these players can be scooped up by another team. This year’s pool of talent is the deepest in recent memory and one only has to look to the past couple of years for evidence that the Bengals practice squad is beginning to act as a shopping mall for other teams: Daniel Herron, Reid Fragel, Dontay Moch, and Shaun Prater have all been scooped up by other teams once able to be pulled from the Bengals. This is a certainty to happen following the Bengals final cuts this year, so clearly every available spot should count for the franchise.

The Bengals drafted McCarron in hopes of having him turn into their long-term backup. Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese will need to groom McCarron properly in case Dalton falters in the future or if he suffers an injury. They also would like McCarron to succeed as he will be a considering cheaper backup option than would any veteran over the next few years. If Dalton finds success and coach Zampese does well with McCarron, then the Bengals may actually be able to turn a profit on him considering they took him later in the draft. In the past, quarterbacks have been traded for at least fourth rounders and this is all it would take to turn a profit on McCarron. All these possibilities for McCarron’s future and none really rely on McCarron getting on the field in 2014.

The Bengals have done an excellent job acquiring all the young talent they have, he me creating arguably the best and deepest roster in the NFL. It’s because of this that so often, in the past couple of years, their rookies have essentially been “red-shirted” to begin their careers. It seems hardly unheard of that the Bengals would do this with yet another rookie. So with this in mind along with the obvious goal of both fans and the organization to retain as much of it as possible; the question must be posed as to whether the team should shelve McCarron for a year in order to retain more of the talent they possess? What do you think?