The main takeaway from Cincinnati backup quarterback AJ McCarron being declared an unrestricted free agent, as with most of the events of the last two years, is not to trust the Bengals’ judgment anymore.
The organization had a nice run there for a while starting with the surprising first return of Marvin Lewis as coach after the 2010 season, but not much has gone right since Jeremy Hill fumbled and the defense bumbled away (via Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict) that wild card game against the Steelers in January 2016.
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Hill’s fumble was of course not the fault of the front office nor Lewis, though blame can be assigned to both for having the knuckleheads who did knucklehead things (Jones and Burfict) on the team.
Since then they have had a bunch of crucial roster decisions to make and blown most of them, too often letting established players walk as free agents only to replace them with youngsters who turned out to be downgrades at multiple positions.
Their recent drafts have left a lot to be desired, too, which is surprising since their string of five playoff appearances in a row was obviously largely the product of drafting well.
And now we learn they screwed up in how they designated McCarron’s roster status during his rookie year, a mistake that has some ripple effects still to be felt.
(For instance, they probably would have tried harder to trade him last year, maybe even picking one of the league’s competent teams to do business with rather than be at the mercy of the Browns with the trade deadline approaching.)
I don’t think McCarron is a star in the making, but he’s still an asset who had value that won’t be fully realized by the Bengals because of the way they managed him.
His almost-certain exit further cements Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback for the Bengals, but that was probably already done when Lewis was retained as coach again in January.
In seven years, Lewis has shown no interest in trying anyone but Dalton, who has followed his best season with two inconsistent ones and shown nearly no leadership along the way as the team has been tossed about in choppy waters.
With that being the case, merely losing McCarron is no big deal.
If McCarron were a clear upgrade over Dalton physically, he would have gotten an opportunity at some point.
If this franchise is anything, it is enamored with playing the most talented players available. That’s usually a good thing, though it obviously has its pitfalls when it means compromising character too many times along the way (again see that playoff meltdown).
We’ll now never know if a personality like McCarron’s could have provided a spark while the team floundered under the uninspiring Dalton during key stretches the past two seasons.
McCarron is likely to get a shot somewhere else, and he deserves that. He was a good soldier during his time in Cincinnati, which no doubt has a lot to do with how amicable this split is.
But who knows: Maybe this will set off a chain of events that leads the Bengals to get better, too.
The likely new No. 2, Jeff Driskel, could be more talented than both Dalton and McCarron, though arrived with much less polish. Maybe he can take the team farther than either of them if he ever gets a chance (like say if Dalton gets hurt again).
That’s admittedly a big stretch, but nobody wants to be Debbie Downer all the time, right?
There’s also the possibility the Bengals now have to draft a quarterback. It’s extremely unlikely they take one in the early rounds — as TheMMQB’s Andy Benoit has suggested — but maybe they’ll luck into another diamond in the rough on day two or three.
The way things have gone for them lately, though, I wouldn’t bet on it.