At first glance, this AJ McCarron news might not strike you as much. A fifth-round pick who’s started four games in four NFL seasons can now be an unrestricted free agent. Big whoop, right? Are teams really going to line up to throw money at him just because they can?
Thing is, though, McCarron plays quarterback. And that position makes NFL teams do funny things. Just a year ago, Mike Glennon was a 27-year-old free agent with 18 career starts — none since 2014 — and the Bears signed him for $18.5 million guaranteed.
McCarron is 27. His four starts in Cincinnati were in 2015. One was a playoff game. He completed 62 percent of his passes in them, with five touchdowns and one interception. He played well enough to win the playoff game, but the Bengals lost to the Steelers in painful fashion because Jeremy Hill fumbled and the defense lost its mind.
Oh, and don’t forget that, just a little more than three months ago, a team tried to trade a second-round pick and a third-round pick for McCarron but couldn’t get it done because of a deadline paperwork snafu.
The point here is this: Don’t rule out McCarron as a factor in the increasingly interesting 2018 offseason quarterback market.
Start with the Browns, the team that tried to trade for McCarron at the deadline in October. That got all botched up, and the team has since changed general manager and overhauled its front office, but if the Browns still want McCarron, they can now get him for nothing but money. Coach Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati for McCarron’s first two seasons and is known to be a fan. It’s not crazy to imagine the Browns signing McCarron as a guy they think can start in 2018 while whomever they draft — they have picks 1 and 4 in Round 1 — gets ready. And who knows? Maybe they like him enough that, if they sign him, they decide they don’t have to take a quarterback at the top of the draft. Unlikely, but you never know.
The top free-agent quarterback prize this year is Washington’s Kirk Cousins. But you can make a list of a half-dozen or so teams that will want Cousins, and only one can get him. If the Browns, Jets, Vikings, Cardinals, Broncos and Bills all try for Cousins, that means at least five teams will need a fallback option. Currently, those include the likes of Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater (who also hasn’t really played in two years). Josh McCown is out there as a one-year “bridge” option. Maybe a team can trade for Blake Bortles, but if so, that leaves Jacksonville as a team looking for a starting quarterback.
The question is not whether McCarron is a starting quarterback any more than that was the question about Glennon a year ago. The question is whether there is a team — or more than one team — out there that views McCarron as a 27-year-old with potential to be more than he’s been to this point in his NFL career. And if they’re willing to pay him a starter’s salary — even on a deal similar to the one-year commitment Chicago made last year to Glennon.
Quarterback is the NFL’s most stubborn and common problem, and it very rarely presents its teams with perfect solutions. If your team ends up signing McCarron and making him the starter in 2018, some of you will wonder if the decision-makers have lost their minds. Some will be cautiously optimistic. Very few will be satisfied, unless and until he performs at a level that justifies the decision. This is the nature of the quarterback market, and because of that, McCarron fits into it just fine. As of Thursday, we now know that he’s going to have a chance to maximize his value in a world where demand for what he does always outpaces supply. Which means he’s likely to end up coming out of this a very rich man.
Lions releasing running back Kerryon Johnson, per reports
Detroit drafted the former Auburn standout in the second round in 2018. Johnson became expendable after the team drafted D’Andre Swift No. 35 overall in 2020, signed free agent running back Jamaal Williams in March and drafted Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson last week.
Johnson ran for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns over three seasons. He also has 61 career receptions for 527 yards and three scores.
Last year, he had 181 yards rushing and two scores on 52 carries. and had 19 receptions for 187 yards receiving and a touchdown.
NFL Network first reported that Johnson would be waived.
The Lions also added a player in free agency, signing tight end Darren Fells on Wednesday. The move gives the team a veteran at the position it can put on the field with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The 35-year-old Fells has 123 career catches with 1,483 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns. The previous two years in Houston, he had a combined 55 catches for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Fells has started 76 games — including 13 with the Lions in 2017 — and played in 102 games with Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland and the Texans. He was a rebounding standout at UC Irvine and played basketball in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before playing in the NFL.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
QB Blaine Gabbert re-signing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on 1-year, $2.5 million deal, source says
TAMPA, Fla. — Once again, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has kept his word.
Days after saying the Bucs would work to re-sign Tom Brady’s top backup, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the team is indeed re-signing Gabbert to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Gabbert, who has played in 60 career games with 48 starts, previously earned $1.187 million in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2019.
Last season, Gabbert, 31, completed 9 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, with all but one of those pass attempts coming in the second half against the Detroit Lions in Week 16, when Arians opted to rest Brady.
The Bucs selected quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round of the NFL draft last week, but Arians said that would not preclude them from re-signing Gabbert. The team also re-signed Ryan Griffin, who was last year’s third-string backup, earlier this offseason.
Gabbert enters his third season with the Bucs, after spending 2018 with the Tennessee Titans, 2017 with Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, 2014-16 with the San Francisco 49ers and 2011-13 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Gabbert has had an eventful offseason. In addition to attending the Kentucky Derby with Brady and Griffin on Saturday, he married longtime sweetheart Bekah Mills in Paradise Valley, Arizona, in March.
NFL sends memo reminding clubs the league will not pay players who suffer injuries away from facilities
The NFL reminded teams Wednesday that they are not obligated to pay players who suffer an injury away from the team facility, an issue that moved this week to the center of an ongoing dispute between the NFL and NFL Players Association over in-person participation in offseason workouts.
The memo, obtained by ESPN, was prompted by several prominent players who were surprised by media reports about Denver Broncos offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James, who tore an Achilles tendon this week while working out on his own and could miss the 2021 season. NFL contracts have long classified such injuries as “non-football,” because they happen away from the team environment, and they are not covered by typical injury guarantees. As a result, the Broncos could withhold James’ salary for as long as he is sidelined. More than $10 million would have been guaranteed if the injury had occurred at the Broncos’ facility.
The NFL has noted this contractual leverage multiple times during negotiations with the NFLPA, which has advised players to skip the voluntary portion of in-person offseason training unless they stand to lose workout bonuses.
“According to the media coverage,” the NFL wrote in its memo, “several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program. Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”
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