The latest round of Sunday splash reports creates the impression that the Browns actually dodged a bullet by not trading for Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron. They didn’t; if the deal had been done, the Browns would have acquired McCarron subject to the possibility of losing him after only eight games — and the issue has been hiding in plain sight for months.
ESPN reports, with classic game-day urgency, that McCarron has filed a grievance against the Bengals over the question of whether he becomes a free agent in March 2018 or March 2019.
“Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron, at the center of headlines this past week, soon will be the center of headlines again,” Adam Schefter declares. “McCarron has filed a grievance against the Bengals and is awaiting a ruling from an arbitrator that will determine whether he is an unrestricted or restricted free agent after this season, sources tell ESPN.”
That language implies that the grievance was filed after the failed trade from Cincinnati to Cleveland, and that no one else had previously reported it. That’s incorrect on both counts; the grievance predates the failed trade, and the issue has been lingering for months.
Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported in February — FEBRUARY — on the question of whether McCarron will be a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent in March 2018, when his rookie contract expires. The question is whether the Bengals should have activated McCarron from the non-football injury list in 2014, which would have given him a fourth year of service, and a shot at the open market in March.
Thus, the Browns would have acquired McCarron subject to the grievance. Which would have created, if the deal hadn’t been bungled by the Browns, the question of why they’d give up a second- and third-round pick for a guy who possibly would be headed to unrestricted free agency so quickly. Which could be one of the reasons why someone “accidentally” failed to notify the league office directly about the trade before the window closed.
So, to summarize, A.J. McCarron may be an unrestricted free agent in March, which has known for nearly as long as the fact that Drew Brees will be.