Counting on A.J. McCarron to solve Browns quarterback problem is folly
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns may turn to quarterback A.J. McCarron in free agency, but they cannot expect him to be anything more than another short bridge to the future.
The Cleveland Browns are going to select a quarterback in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Yes, there is still a possibility that general manager John Dorsey makes an offer to quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency that is impossible to pass up. But since the Browns do not meet Cousins’ stated criteria of being a team that is ready to win and has a stable situation, it is probably best to put that fantasy to rest.
The actual quarterback that Dorsey will select in the draft is a discussion for another day, but the reality is that no matter who it is they will more than likely not be ready to start when the season opens on Sept. 9.
Which means that the Browns are going to need to sign the latest name to their list of bridge quarterbacks – a group that has included the likes of Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia, Jake Delhomme and Brian Hoyer – and have all turned into a bridge to nowhere.
Which brings us to A.J. McCarron, soon to be an unrestricted free agent after spending the past four seasons as the backup quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals.
There is no reason to rehash the details of the Browns pursuit of McCarron at last fall’s trading deadline, but it is safe to say that McCarron is at the top of head coach Hue Jackson’s wish list.
McCarron has also risen in the eyes of fans, who continually work hard to talk themselves into the latest quarterback being the one who will finally solve the ongoing quarterback crisis. (We’re not shaming anyone here, that’s what fans do, especially in Cleveland).
Much of the positivity surrounding the idea of McCarron in Orange and Brown is focused on his play in 2015, when he filled in for injured quarterback Andy Dalton for five games, including a playoff game. McCarron “did well” in those starts, according to his supporters, and showed that he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.
That may be true as McCarron did complete 65 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions in three regular-season starts. But a closer and more realistic look at McCarron’s production tells a different story, as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out this week.
In a column looking at five things the Browns can do to improve heading into 2018, Barnwell shines a harsh light on McCarron:
"McCarron was worse than Dalton across the board save for a modest jump in completion percentage, which was due to the fact that his average pass traveled nearly one yard shorter in the air. Dalton’s yards per attempt and passer rating were well above McCarron’s. McCarron’s sack rate was double that of Dalton, which is in part due to inexperience, but also suggests McCarron might not be the quickest to make decisions in the pocket. Dalton’s Total QBR was 72.5 that season, which was good for fourth in the league. McCarron’s was 54.8, which ranked 26th."
"In addition, McCarron had virtually no success moving the football in that Bengals-Steelers playoff matchup. The Bengals scored 16 points in a game where he threw an interception and fumbled three times, one of which cost Cincinnati a likely field goal opportunity. The team racked up all of two first downs in the first half, and while McCarron improved after the break, the Bengals’ two touchdown drives in the game each started from the Pittsburgh 45-yard line."
So does that mean the Browns are doomed if they sign McCarron? Not necessarily.
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If the Browns decide to sign McCarron it has to be with a plan firmly in place that he will hold the starting job until the rookie draft pick is ready to go. That might be in Week 5 or Week 10 of this season; if it is not until 2019, that is OK as well.
But there is simply no tangible evidence that McCarron is a longterm answer as a starting quarterback. The best case scenario is that he plays well enough this fall that the Browns can trade him for something after the season while moving onto bigger and better things.
If Jackson has his way that will not happen, of course, but Dorsey is running the show, and if he is the general manager that everyone makes him out to be then he should be able to craft a deal that is attractive enough to entice McCarron to Cleveland, but allows the Browns to easily transition to a better quarterback in the near future.
McCarron might be better than any quarterback currently on the Browns roster, and he may turn into the best bridge quarterback the team has signed, but it is time for the team to do better than that.
The quarterback position is going to look vastly different this fall for the Browns and McCarron may be a part of that new look.
Next: Is Mel Kiper right about Josh Allen?
But to expect him to be more than just a short-term fix is folly.