On Wednesday, the Buffalo Bills signed quarterback AJ McCarron to a two-year, $10 million deal with incentives to be a bridge quarterback, help the team’s inevitable rookie signal caller, and calm the waters at the quarterback position. For more insight on McCarron, we asked Rebecca Toback, former site manager of SB Nation’s Cincinnati Bengals blog, Cincy Jungle, and current SB Nation NFL Director, for her insights on McCarron’s time with the Bengals.
“AJ McCarron is a very good backup quarterback but he hasn’t shown enough to think he really is a starter, which is why I think he lasted as long as he did on the free agent market,” says Toback. “Not to say three days is a long time, but also, it’s a long time. I would say he is fairly self aware of the situation he’s been in so far in the NFL. He never complained despite sitting behind Andy Dalton or during some tough stretches or during his free agency grievance. That will probably extend to him being aware of what he’s doing in Buffalo whether it’s competing to start or helping a young QB who comes in.”
In February, McCarron won a grievance against the Bengals who had been trying to say he missed too much of his rookie season with a pre-existing shoulder injury. He was on the Non-Football Injury list that season and was only on the roster for three games, which isn’t enough to accrue a season. McCarron didn’t want to leave the Bengals as much as he wanted the “ability to compete somewhere” to be the starting quarterback, something Toback made known to us, as well.
“He REALLY REALLY wants to start and is going to compete to the fullest to do so,” said Toback. “I can’t see him causing a big stir if the Bills decided to bench him at any point during the season other than being bummed, but he definitely will give it his all because you can tell he wants to be an NFL star.”
But Buffalo isn’t bringing him in to be a star. If he does that, it’s great, but Buffalo is moving up to take a quarterback. They’ve made their intentions pretty clear. McCarron hasn’t been the elder statesman on a roster before like he’ll be in Buffalo, but his head is in the right place.
“He doesn’t have much experience leading young quarterbacks, since he was the Bengals’ young and backup quarterback, but he definitely has the leadership experience from his time at Alabama,” said Toback. “He’s a great leader, the guys in the locker room really got behind him when he had to play. I think that’s a really big strength for him and something fans appreciate, too.”
As we noted in our analysis of McCarron’s on-field performance, he can be inconsistent and hold onto the ball just a bit. Toback said this, telling us that even when Cincinnati had a good offensive line in 2015, McCarron had a high sack percentage where he was sacked on 6% of his dropbacks.
"He holds onto the ball for too long and that will need to change," noted Toback. "The Bengals had to simplify the offense for him, but that’s not really too much of a negative because he was thrown into the mix in his only time starting when Andy Dalton broke his thumb mid-game, mid-season on a 10-2 team (at the time)."
“He’s super inconsistent, too,” noted Toback. “If you watch the Bengals-Broncos 2015 game, you see that. The first half was unbelievable AJ and then the second half/OT was abysmal. Maybe they figured him out. He ended up fumbling away the game in OT and hurt his hand in the process.”
It’s not all bad, though. In order to be inconsistent, you have to have flashes of good otherwise you’d just always be bad. (Deep analysis here, folks.) Fans of Tyrod Taylor will notice something appealing about McCarron, too.
“On a positive note, if you remove the game that he entered in after the Dalton injury, he only threw one interception the rest of the 2015 season in 4 games. Part of that was due to not taking risks. But... that worked.”
Taylor for his career has a 1.3% interception percentage. McCarron is currently at 1.5%. Only three quarterbacks had a better percentage in 2017; Taylor (1.0%), Alex Smith (1.0%), and Tom Brady (1.4%).
Thanks to Rebecca for the insight and check out Cincy Jungle for their coverage of the move.