Cleveland Browns: Examining the A.J. McCarron possibility

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 19: Quarterback AJ McCarron
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 19: Quarterback AJ McCarron /

The Cleveland Browns have a massive hole at quarterback. Alex Smith, one of the top options this offseason, is now heading to Washington. Could Cincinnati backup A.J. McCarron be the answer the Browns are looking for?

Back in November, Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron was the talk of the town in Cleveland. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.

At the trade deadline, the Cleveland Browns attempted to make a deal for McCarron and, to put it bluntly, they failed miserably. Amidst a flurry of differing stories and media narratives, the most that Browns fans could decipher was as follows:

The Browns, who thought they had the deal done with the Bengals, started celebrating the deal early. The trade deadline passed, and (apparently) former general manager Sashi Brown either just forgot to sign the trade paperwork and call everything in, or he purposefully sabotaged it.

So, the Browns continued on with their season and, as we know, finished totally winless on the year. Whether McCarron could have helped get a win will always be a mystery, but what matters now is his free agency status.

It is crystal clear that head coach Hue Jackson is head over heels for McCarron. Of course, the Browns sit with the second-most cap space in the league, and have more than enough money to sign McCarron. There’s only one problem.

As it stands right now, McCarron is a restricted free agent, but that could change.

McCarron is a special case as a free agent as he will look to have his status changed to that of an unrestricted free agent at a hearing on Feb. 15.

According to Adam Schefter at ESPN, McCarron’s argument center’s on the team’s handling of a shoulder injury during his rookie season:

"McCarron initially passed his post-draft physical, but the Bengals placed him on the non-football injury (NFI) list 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 year towards free agency. But Cincinnati didn’t add McCarron to its active roster until Dec. 9, meaning it was too late for him to accrue a season toward his free agency. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, a player receives an accrued season that counts toward free agency if he were eligible to play in six regular-season games."

Let’s suppose that McCarron wins his case and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. In that case, there are still two major questions with him.

First off, is McCarron just a product of a small sample size that happened to look solid? And furthermore, is he better than the quarterbacks coming out in the 2018 NFL Draft class?

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Let’s try to answer the first question. In 2015, McCarron started his only three games. Andy Dalton broke his thumb and McCarron was thrust onto the field as a rookie. So, how did he perform?

During those three games, McCarron completed 79 of his 119 passes (good for a 66.4 percent clip), totalling 854 yards, with six touchdowns to two interceptions.

If we were to make those numbers entirely consistent over the course of an entire season, McCarron’s stats would look something like this: 32 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions and, perhaps most impressive, 4,555 passing yards.

Are those numbers realistic? Well, no. McCarron, like any quarterback, would likely have some bad games, growing pains as a starter, and things like that. But when compared to Kirk Cousins’ 2017 season with the Washington Redskins, (64.3 completion percentage, 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions), McCarron looks incredibly impressive.

Sure, in reality, McCarron only gives us a small sample size. But it might be worth a shot for the Browns to sign him if he is able to win his case as a free agent. Now, the other big question is much more subjective: is McCarron better than the quarterbacks coming out this season?

There are no complicated numbers or formulas for subjectivity. This question cannot be answered with science or raw numbers, and it might be a better question to ask Browns general manager John Dorsey.

Really, it depends on what Dorsey values. McCarron might be a leader, a winner and great mechanically, however, he lacks the elite arm power to really drive the ball vertically. It all depends on what Dorsey wants.

Next: Browns: Mr. Smith goes to Washington

So is McCarron a guaranteed success in Cleveland if he wins his free agency plea? Well, he is at least worth a shot. The Browns have all the money in the world, and if Dorsey and Jackson can agree, they might as well go after their guy.