On Thursday, it was announced that quarterback A.J. McCarron won his grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals. McCarron will now enter the 2018 NFL free agency period as an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport first reported this news.

The core issue of the grievance came from the Bengals placing McCarron on the Non-Football Injury list in 2014. He was placed on the list even though he was healthy enough to play. By placing him on the list for 13 games that season, McCarron did not accrue a full season on his contract.

Since McCarron did not accrue a full season that year, he would have entered free agency this year as a restricted free agent. This would have given the Bengals a chance to match any offer made to him. But after the league’s ruling yesterday, McCarron will be able to sign with any team without the Bengals having a chance to match any offer.

So how does this affect the Browns? Simply, Cleveland will likely be the favorite to sign the fourth-year quarterback. McCarron played under Browns head coach Hue Jackson for two years in 2014 and 2015. Both men seem to be very fond of the other’s football abilities. McCarron replaced an injured Andy Dalton during the 2015 season and showed promise in Jackson’s offense.

McCarron played in seven games in 2015, starting three, and threw for 854 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions with a 66.4 completion percentage. He also threw for 212 yards, a touchdown, and an interception with a 56.1 completion percentage in a playoff loss against the Steelers.

Although those numbers do not seem that impressive, it said something about a young quarterback being thrown into the starting role. He did not dominate games, but he played well enough to give his team a chance to win. And that’s what happened, as the Bengals won two of the three regular season games he started.

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Signing McCarron this offseason would make too much sense for the Browns. Although he is a young quarterback, he will not cost the team a lot of money on a long-term contract. The Browns will still be able to pick a quarterback high in the draft even if they sign him. McCarron can manage the starting role for a year or two as the draft pick gets acclimated to the NFL.

And if McCarron shows tremendous success, he is young enough at 27 years old for the Browns to be comfortable making him a franchise quarterback. Or if the Browns prefer the younger quarterback, they could trade McCarron to a quarterback needy team and get something in return for him.

For McCarron, signing with the Browns would give him a chance to boost his value for a potential bigger contract in the next couple of years. Playing in a familiar offense with a coach that trusts him, he has an opportunity to be successful. If he signs with another team, he will have to learn a system that he has not played in the last four years. He may not have the immediate success that he could potentially have in Cleveland.

McCarron even brought that up to his hometown radio station WNSP-FM 105.5 in Mobile, Alabama in an interview last month.

“As a competitor, I wanted that opportunity, just to be able to showcase and help a team win ball games,” McCarron said. “I think I would have had some success playing for Hue (Jackson). I would’ve loved the opportunity to go up there and get them a win, more than one win. As a competitor, that’s all you can ask for.”

And let’s not forget this past year’s trade deadline. The Browns and Bengals were close to a trade on McCarron, but things fell apart at the last minute. Cleveland was willing to send a second-round pick and a third-round pick for McCarron. Now Cleveland only must give up a part of their over $100 million in cap space to get the quarterback.

And Jackson’s comfortability with McCarron cannot be overstated enough. In November, Jackson did something that you would rarely see a head coach do before a game.

A Cleveland-McCarron connection makes too much sense for both sides. The Browns would have a veteran quarterback that knows Jackson’s system. He will also be a solid bridge quarterback if the Browns use a top draft pick on a quarterback. And McCarron could use his time in Cleveland as a chance to build his value to receive a long-term contract in the future. McCarron should be the favorite to be the Browns’ Week 1 starter in 2018.


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