EJ Manuel Signing Underscores Importance Of AJ McCarron

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Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) talks with quarterback Andy Dalton (14) at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 22-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron (5) talks with quarterback Andy Dalton (14) at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 22-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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As the importance of the backup quarterback continues to grow, the Bengals must decide what to do with AJ McCarron.

Kellen Clemens. Connor Cook. Matt Moore. When the star quarterback goes down, these are the guys piloting the team. In recent years, these second-stringers have become more important than ever.

No longer can bad quarterback play be covered up. In the modern NFL, the quarterback is the central piece of the foundation to any franchise. Their flaws become the team’s flaws, and if they’re ineffective, so is the rest of the team.

And that’s why the backup quarterback is so essential. With only roughly 30 human beings on the planet capable of playing quarterback adequately at any given time, having multiple good ones on the same roster is a luxury beyond comprehension. It’s also a major competitive advantage.

When Derek Carr went down in Week 16 of last season, the Raiders’ season was effectively over. Sitting at 12-3 and possessing one of the most talented rosters in the league, they were more or less eliminated from title contention. And it was because of their backup quarterbacks. Try as they might, Connor Cook and Matt McGloin could get nowhere near replicating what Derek Carr had done. To their credit, they tried to work past it, but there was no overcoming Carr’s injury for the Raiders.

Stories like this are all over the league. The Dolphins missed out on a playoff berth last year when Ryan Tannehill suffered a torn ACL and Matt Moore had to take over for the last few weeks. When Tony Romo broke his collarbone in 2015, Kellen Clemens took the reins and nothing was the same.

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But the Cowboys learned. They drafted Dak Prescott, and when Tony Romo fractured his spine in his first action of 2016, they were ready. They plugged in Prescott, and to their pleasant surprise, he played just as well as Romo. Their ‘backup plan’ led them to a 13-3 record and the divisional round of the playoffs.

Last week, the Raiders signed quarterback EJ Manuel, previously of the Buffalo Bills. Manuel was often less than effective for the Bills, managing a meager 6-11 record and completing less than 60% of his passes. If Carr were to go down again, the unfortunate reality is that Oakland would likely be in no better shape than they were last year—talented but lacking a great player at the most important position in football.

If Andy Dalton ever suffered a major injury—and if he takes 41 sacks again, he very well could—the Bengals are still in fine shape. The competent backup quarterback is a rare breed in the NFL, and AJ McCarron is just that. In his time replacing Dalton in 2014, McCarron passed for 854 yards over three games, an overall exceptional showing for the young passer. After this performance, his trade rumors were the talk of the offseason last year.

But if the Bengals lost McCarron, they’d be losing one of the few advantages they have left. They’d need to be sure they were getting back a player that satisfies one of their many needs. A player like Kevin Minter, their most recent free agency signing. Essentially, a solid performer that fills a hole in the roster.

Next: Cincinnati Bengals Finally Cut Ties With Rey Maualuga

McCarron is likely nearing the end of his time in Cincinnati. The Bengals could trade him. They could let him walk next year for a compensatory pick. Either way, a good showing from McCarron as he moves into the last year of his rookie deal is in Bengals fans best interests.

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