He's not exactly asking for a trade but it sounds like he wouldn't mind it.
With a black garbage bag full of his gear slung over his right shoulder, AJ McCarron looked – and sounded – like a man saying his goodbyes to the Cincinnati Bengals and Paul Brown Stadium on Monday afternoon.
He hugged a Bengals staffer “just in case” and admitted that he’ll be thinking about being traded by the club that drafted him in the fifth round out of the University of Alabama in 2014.
“Now, it’s nothing I can do,” the 26-year-old said. “I try not to worry about it. You’re always gonna think about it. I’d be lyin’; whoever told you that I wouldn’t, or if they were going through the same situation, you’re going to think about it. Because you want to play as a competitor. I’ll let my agent handle everything and go with whatever he says.”
But, he wouldn’t be too upset if he were to be dealt.
“No,” he said flatly. “I definitely wouldn’t be distraught at all. Like I told Marvin (Lewis) and all my coaches in my exit meetings, I appreciate everybody in this organization. I really do. From the bottom of my heart. They gave me a chance when a lot of people wouldn’t. They all treated me unbelievably and I really do care for every one of ‘em and respect all ‘em. This place will always have a special place in my heart just for what they’ve done for me. I really appreciated it.”
Coming out of Alabama, McCarron had to recover from a shoulder issue and did not play as a rookie. He proved in the preseason of 2015 that he could be Andy Dalton’s primary backup, and then went 2-1 as a starter down the stretch of the 2015 regular season when Dalton suffered a broken thumb.
In seven total games, McCarron went 79-for-119 for 854 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 97.1.
In the Bengals’ 18-16 playoff loss to Pittsburgh, he was 23-for-41 for 212 yards for a 68.3 rating, but threw the go-ahead touchdown to A.J. Green late in the game.
What makes this offseason different in terms of trade speculation is that unlike last year, McCarron’s contract status will play a bigger role.
As a mid-round pick, he signed the standard four-year rookie deal – so he has one year left on his contract. Salary cap websites overthecap.com and spotrac.com report McCarron as being owed $735,413 next season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
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Perhaps with a look to the future without McCarron, the Bengals claimed rookie quarterback Jeff Driskel off waivers at the start of the year and carried him on the 53-man roster all season.
It was a move McCarron understood, but tried to not read too much into.
“As a quarterback, you understand something might be happening and they’re trying to find somebody they’re possibly comfortable with. But you never know,” McCarron said. “Especially during the season, I don’t ever think about those things. I just don’t put my mind on it. You can drive yourself crazy in this business, always wondering. Think of the parts that you know that are moving and then if you really think about it, the parts that you don’t know that are really moving behind the scenes, you can really mess yourself up. I just don’t pay attention to it.”
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Driskel, who was active for one game this year as an emergency quarterback and wide receiver, understood the situation as well – and knows McCarron’s future will impact his in some fashion.
“You definitely develop relationships, you want what’s best for everybody and obviously I wish him the best,” Driskel said. “And whatever happens, he’s a great player. We’ll just see what happens. Like he said, he can’t control it, I can’t control it. All you can do is wait and see what happens and just go with it.”
As McCarron was about to load up his truck and head home to spend quality time with his 7-month-old son and seems ready for the next step in his career, he allowed for the fact that come the start of organized training activities in the spring, he could be back as well.
“The coaches know, Marvin knows how big of a competitor I am and I want a chance to play,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen. Things I can't control. I’m not going to put any, what (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) likes to say, mental units on that because it’s out of my hands.”