INDIANAPOLIS — The popular assumption is AJ McCarron will sign with the Browns on March 14 — the first day of free agency — and be the starting quarterback when the season opens in September.
I agree that’s the most likely scenario, but it’s hardly a given. With all the moving pieces and other factors that will come into play, I think it’s a 50-50 proposition.
Let’s take a look at both sides.
3 reasons McCarron will come to Cleveland
The connection: Coach Hue Jackson and McCarron have a mutual respect and admiration that can make the difference in free agency.
Jackson was McCarron’s coordinator in Cincinnati, tried to acquire him last year at the trade deadline and introduced him to owner Jimmy Haslam before the game in Cincinnati to put a face with the name. Jackson’s convinced McCarron can win with the Browns.
The money: McCarron said his priority is going where he has the chance to play, but money always matters and the Browns are positioned to separate themselves from the pack of contenders with about $110 million in salary cap space.
McCarron will likely command a bit more than the three-year, $45 million deal, including $18.5 million guaranteed, Mike Glennon got from the Bears a year ago, and I think the Browns would be OK paying that.
The bar is low: McCarron would have to play only halfway decent to look great compared to Cleveland’s recent quarterbacks. And if he won consistently, he would be adored by Browns fans.
The Browns seem committed to starting whichever veteran they sign. If McCarron played well, he could cement himself as the long-term starter in Cleveland or elsewhere.
3 reasons McCarron will sign elsewhere
Other opinions: Jackson’s belief in McCarron is well-documented, but what’s unknown is how new general manager John Dorsey and new coordinator Todd Haley feel about him.
Dorsey had the chance to draft McCarron in 2014 as GM of the Chiefs but didn’t. He even took Georgia’s Aaron Murray — who’s never played in an NFL game — a pick before the Bengals selected McCarron in the fifth round.
Haley takes over control of the offense and will implement his system, so McCarron won’t have the built-in advantage of knowing Jackson’s scheme. And Haley comes from Pittsburgh, where he had Ben Roethlisberger. McCarron doesn’t have the same arm strength, which may be a turnoff for Haley.
A wanted man: The Browns won’t be the only team interested in McCarron, and his other options will be better teams with seemingly better chances to win.
That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely a factor.
Not alone: No matter which veteran the Browns add — unless it’s Kirk Cousins — they are expected to draft a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. Having such a high-profile guy waiting in the wings can be unsettling for the veteran expected to bridge the gap to the rookie.
McCarron has only four NFL starts, so no one will just turn over its franchise to him, but teams like Denver and Arizona likely wouldn’t draft a quarterback in the first round if they signed McCarron. That would mean less pressure to win right out of the gate.
In Cleveland, with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayvield or Josh Allen the pick at No. 1, McCarron could be looking over his shoulder almost from Day 1.