Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron is looking at another year of barely getting on the field, and maybe longer.
With the draft a few days away, Cincinnati has given no indication it’s willing to trade him to a team that would give him a bigger role. It’s a challenging situation for McCarron, who proved he could lead a team into the playoffs in 2015 if given the opportunity.
“As a competitor, you always want your chance to play,” McCarron said Monday. “But it will happen. I just have to wait my time. I believe that, and I trust in my ability to keep showcasing what I can do and then get my opportunity.”
The two-time national champion at Alabama got his chance when Andy Dalton broke the thumb on his passing hand late in the 2015 season. McCarron, a fifth-round pick, started the last three games and won two of them. His late touchdown pass to A.J. Green had Cincinnati ahead in the closing minutes of a playoff game against Pittsburgh before a pair of defensive penalties helped the Steelers move in range for the winning field goal.
Last year, he was relegated to a backup role again, getting into only one game without throwing a pass.
Although there’s great demand in the NFL for starting quarterbacks, the Bengals haven’t shown an inclination to trade him. They’re content having him as the backup in case Dalton gets hurt again.
“It’s great to be wanted, it really is,” McCarron said.
Even so, it’s difficult to go back to being the backup after leading a team to the playoffs. Dalton has been extremely durable during his six-year career — the broken thumb was his only significant injury — so the odds are against McCarron getting much chance to play until his contract ends.
He’s in a situation similar to Jimmy Garoppolo in New England, which hasn’t shown an inclination to trade Tom Brady’s backup.
McCarron’s original deal runs through this season, but there’s a catch. He showed up for training camp with a sore shoulder as a rookie in 2014 and was unavailable for most of the season, which could affect his status. Instead of being an unrestricted free agent, the Bengals think he should be a restricted free agent after the 2017 season because he missed most of his rookie season.
As a restricted free agent, McCarron could wind up spending the 2018 season in Cincinnati as well.
“We’re still going through all that,” McCarron said. “And it’s probably going to go into next year. It’s just something they’re going to fight on their side and something I’m going to fight on my side to prove why I shouldn’t have to have another year.”
McCarron’s eagerness to move into a starter’s role is tempered by his appreciation for how the Bengals drafted him. They stuck with him after he missed most of his rookie season because of the sore shoulder, which improved after he got stem cells injected. In a year or two, he’ll get his chance.
“There were some quarterbacks that got some pretty nice pay days this offseason,” McCarron said. “Hopefully in my future, one of those days is coming up.”