The Browns reportedly tried and failed to trade for Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron at today’s NFL deadline, and they were reportedly willing to give up a second-round pick and a third-round pick to get him. That raised a question: Why is McCarron worth more in a trade than Jimmy Garoppolo, who went from New England to San Francisco yesterday for a second-round pick?
The answer lies in their contracts: Garoppolo becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season, meaning that for the 49ers to keep him they’ll either need to sign him to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag, which would commit about $25 million to him. But McCarron only becomes a restricted free agent after the season, which means the Browns would only have had to use the first-round tender of about $4 million to keep him.
McCarron and Garoppolo have both been in the NFL since they were drafted in 2014, but McCarron has only accrued three seasons toward free agency, not four, which is why McCarron only gets to hit restricted free agency, not unrestricted free agency, in March. McCarron opened his rookie season on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue stemming from his college days and wasn’t activated to the 53-man roster until December, so he didn’t accrue a season that year.
So it makes some sense that the Browns were willing to give up more for McCarron than the 49ers gave up for Garoppolo, because the Browns could have paid McCarron a lot less next year than the 49ers will have to pay Garoppolo. Instead the deadline passed, McCarron stayed in Cincinnati, and it’s the Bengals who will still control McCarron’s rights when he becomes a restricted free agent in March.