The Big Mac: Should the Browns pursue A.J. McCarron?

Another week passes, another pivot on the potential future of the quarterback position on the Northcoast. For the Cleveland Browns, the topic of identifying a franchise quarterback will continue to be at the forefront of fan thought until it is solved. We have discussed the possibility of signing Kirk Cousins and trading for Tyrod Taylor. However, with executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown being fired and owner Jimmy Haslam announcing Hue Jackson will return as head coach for the 2018 season, the perspective of what might be done at the game’s most important position has changed to some degree. Despite newly hired general manager John Dorsey being handed control of the 53-man roster, Haslam and Jackson were the men responsible for pushing to acquire A.J. McCarron and seen chatting him up when the Browns played the Bengals just a few weeks ago.

Bode: Jake, A.J. McCarron has attempted eight passes since 2015 and is a restricted free agent (RFA) after this season.1 What type of tender (first-round, second-round, original-round) do you expect the Bengals to place on McCarron? Is he good enough for the Browns to sign him and give up that asset?

Jake: I fully expect the Bengals to put a second-round tender on McCarron. They have shown the price tag to be steep if someone wants too pry him out of Cincinnati. Although the sample size is small, I don’t believe he has the necessary skill set to be a long-term starter in the NFL. McCarron will always be the cerebral quarterback he was at Alabama, but I don’t trust the physical tools he possesses to make a difference in the AFC North. I like McCarron as a serviceable back-up in this league for a long time. There’s value in the position, but he is not worth letting draft capital slip away to obtain. The Browns will be better served using their early assets to draft the best quarterback available and building around him as best they can.

Bode, I know most fans are determined to see the Browns add a veteran quarterback to the mix. If the Bengals put a reasonable late-round tender on him, is he then worth it to you?

Bode: The way the RFA tenders work would mean that the Bengals can only put a first, second, or original round tender on him. McCarron was a fifth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, so the Bengals will have to choose between a second or fifth round tender. Given that they know Haslam signed off on a second and third round pick being given up to acquire him mid-season, I don’t see how they place less than a second-round tender on him. Dorsey is allowed to negotiate that price with the Bengals, but Mike Brown has historically been indignant about moving off his valuations. So, it will be interesting to see how stringent the Browns are about acquiring McCarron.

I agree with you that the Browns need to sign a veteran free agent alongside drafting a quarterback at No. 1 overall. That would make the quarterback room DeShone Kizer, the veteran, and the rookie, which would allow for less initial pressure if the team did decide to go the Patrick Mahomes route and allow the young player to learn first. The tricky part is that veteran free agents are not dumb. They will understand that the Browns are going to be drafting their replacement and might even value Kizer more than themselves in Training Camp. So, it will be tough to get even a Josh McCown level quarterback to sign here. Leveraging Hue Jackson’s previous relationship might be needed (if he is still the coach). That said, I wouldn’t go beyond a third-round pick to do it.

OK, let’s say the Browns do sign McCarron and he beats out Kizer and name-your-rookie quarterback to be the Week 1 starter. What type of offense would best suit McCarron?

Jake: So much of the Browns interest in McCarron will hinge on Hue Jackson being around in 2018. Ironically enough, Hue’s offense will be something that McCarron will be quite comfortable in. Jackson’s offensive philosophy and schemes have not changed much from his time in Cincinnati with McCarron, and they really haven’t changed much dating back to his time as head coach in Oakland.

McCarron had a solid three-game run in 2015 filling in for the injured Andy Dalton as Jackson was the Bengals offensive coordinator. He was efficient in his four regular season starts, completing 66 percent of his passes with a 6-2 touchdown to interception ratio. In the playoff game against Pittsburgh, McCarron struggled to drive the ball downfield with any success the way he needed to as Pittsburgh made him attempt to beat them vertically.

Hue Jackson’s offensive system is heavily predicated on the vertical passing game, and he asks his quarterbacks to be able to work high to low with quick processing. McCarron can do those things, but when his supporting cast can’t establish the necessary running game around him, it’s hard to trust him when it matters most. It’s genuinely hard to view McCarron as a massive upgrade from Kizer as Kizer has a more gifted skill set, but McCarron would make less mistakes. There’s some give and take there.

Bode, do you believe McCarron is ultimately worth pursuing? Even with a new head coach?

Bode: The unrestricted free agent list has a bunch of names though there is a dichotomy between those who would demand a chance at a long-term starting role (not going to happen given that first overall pick) or being no better than McCarron. The Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chase Daniel, and Mark Sanchez level of quarterbacking should be happy for a slight overpay to have an opportunity to start a few games (if they can beat out Kizer). Given that McCarron would only be a stop-gap measure and the Browns have tons of cap space, any of those options is more alluring to me. A third-round draft pick has just too much potential to throw away. The Browns third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has become on of my favorite players this season; Larry Ogunjobi.

McCarron is noted to be an intelligent quarterback who is great in the film room, so there is some measure of mentoring that he could impart on both Kizer and whichever rookie we select. However, coaches are paid to coach, players are paid to play. So, I would prefer is the Browns stayed away from A.J. McCarron this offseason.

  1. EDIT: Updating that, yes, A.J. McCarron has filed a grievance to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He would need to prove he was healthy in August of 2014 when the team indicated he was not, so it is a tough case to make and not expected to be successful. It is a possibility though. []