Could the Browns make a play for A.J. McCarron?

Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

A.J. McCarron proved to be a more than serviceable backup quarterback in 2015. Could a team like the Browns make a play for him before the 2016 season?

Hue Jackson is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Insinuating that Johnny Manziel isn’t an option, Jackson has acknowledged that his team needs a quarterback.

And who better than a guy Jackson knows, A.J. McCarron?

The Cleveland Browns have the second overall pick of the NFL Draft, and given that the Titans–the team with the first pick–are set at quarterback, Cleveland will have first go at any quarterback in this year’s rookie class.

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University of California quarterback

Jared Goff

makes the most sense for Cleveland, as he seems to be the consensus top quarterback in the 2016 draft class. A three-year starter, Goff led a team that finished 1-13 his freshman year to an 8-5 record in 2015. The Golden Bears won the Armed Forces Bowl in January, marking Cal’s first bowl win since 2008.

But if Jackson and company decide to select a different player with their first pick, it’s entirely possible that the Browns would still need a quarterback.

Here’s where McCarron plays in.

Jackson has developed a relationship with McCarron over the past two years. Jackson knows that he can trust McCarron, as the quarterback is a very efficient and reliable player. While he doesn’t make as many big plays downfield as Andy Dalton, McCarron can still sling the ball.

On Cleveland’s side, the predicament boils down to two things:

  • Can Hue Jackson trust a rookie quarterback as much as he trusts McCarron?

Rookie quarterbacks are hit-or-miss, no matter how hight they come in the draft. In Oakland, Jackson elected to pass on a quarterback early in the draft, trading for Carson Palmer instead. If Jackson believes McCarron can be the answer for Cleveland and trusts him as a passer, he’ll likely make an offer for the Bengals’ backup.

  • Is quarterback the Browns’ biggest position of need?

There are plenty of glaring needs in Cleveland, and Jackson may believe that his team needs to fill positions of need before selecting a signal-caller so that he can be comfortable. Rookie quarterbacks often struggle, especially if there isn’t a stable offensive line, a running back who can force opponents to blitz less frequently and reliable weapons in the passing game.

From Cincinnati’s side, the Bengals would gladly trade McCarron away for the right price. After all, he was a fifth-round draft pick who now could command a second or third-round pick in a trade. And given that McCarron will be a free agent a year from now–and won’t re-sign in Cincinnati as a backup, the Bengals have to know that they’d get the most value out of McCarron by trading him. The Bengals have two questions to answer here:

  • Would Cincinnati be comfortable bringing in another quarterback to back up Dalton?

The Bengals played very well with McCarron behind center, and he looks like one of the NFL’s best backup quarterbacks. But if Dalton were to go down again, would his backup be able to carry the load? If the Bengals are comfortable either drafting or signing another quarterback, there’s one more question to answer.

  • Would the Bengals believe that McCarron can be the answer in Cleveland?

While Hue Jackson is close to the Bengals organization, it’s time to face the facts. He’s an enemy. Wishing success for the former Bengals coach would be, in a way, wrong. If the Browns become a good team, that’s two less easy games for Cincinnati every season. If the Bengals believe McCarron is the real deal, there’s no way they’ll deal him to Cleveland.

At the end of the day, whether the Bengals believe McCarron is a viable starting quarterback will determine whether or not they’ll trade him to Cleveland. There are 30 other teams in the NFL, and many of them could make offers for the former Alabama quarterback. If an NFC team offers a third-round or even second-round pick, the Bengals would be dumb not to accept.

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But McCarron to Cleveland? As of now, it doesn’t seem like a very likely scenario.