Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron has filed a grievance against the team and is awaiting a ruling from an arbitrator that will determine whether he is an unrestricted or restricted free agent after this season, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports.
The ruling in the case, expected sometime in the next few weeks, could determine whether the Browns are able to sign McCarron to a potentially lucrative contract without any compensation to Cincinnati or whether Cleveland would have to trade for his rights.
Last week the Browns agreed to send a second- and third-round picks to the Bengals in a trade that would have sent McCarron to Cleveland. But the Browns failed to notify the league before the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline, the league denied the deal.
According to Schefter, the Bengals would likely would place a first-round tender on McCarron as a restricted free agent, which would make it difficult to simply sign him to an offer sheet.
McCarron’s grievance dates to his rookie season in 2014, when the Bengals drafted him in the fifth round. McCarron initially passed his post-draft physical, but the Bengals placed him on the non-football injury list (NFI) at the start of training camp due to a shoulder issue.
In McCarron’s opinion, he was healthy enough to come off the NFI list during training camp, which would have counted his rookie season toward his free agency. But Cincinnati didn’t add McCarron to its active roster until Dec. 9, which was too late for him to accrue a season toward his free agency.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, a player receives an accrued season that counts toward free agency if he was eligible to play in six regular-season games.
Dalton is finished with the guaranteed money portion of his contract; his $13.7 million salary for next season is not guaranteed, and Cincinnati can trade or release him without any salary-cap charges, a review of his deal showed.
The arbitrator’s decision will impact the free-agent quarterback class of 2018 and could help influence who is playing the position in Cleveland. The Browns also could decide to turn their attention this offseason to Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who played under Cleveland coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati.