Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron is expected to get a free agency ruling this week in his challenge of the team's decision to place him on the non-football injury list during his rookie season.
NFL players typically get unrestricted free agency after four years, but McCarron did not earn an accrued year in his 2014 rookie season after being placed on the non-football injury list for most of the season due to a shoulder injury.
As a result, the 27-year-old McCarron is set for restricted free agency, but he filed a grievance arguing that he should have been activated earlier. If it is successful in the arbitrator ruling Thursday, McCarron would hit the open market when free agency starts March 14.
If he is ruled as a restricted free agent, the Bengals would be able tender him a one-year contract offer in order to reserve the right to match any offer.
There is a similar case for another potential free agent quarterback -- Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings. Bridgewater signed a four-year deal as a first-round pick but missed the entire 2016 season to recover from a serious injury that required reconstructive knee surgery. Bridgewater spent more than half of the 2017 season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
The hurdle in the McCarron case is whether the Bengals used a proper medical basis to determine that McCarron suffered his shoulder injury elsewhere and was eligible for NFI. If the arbitrator rules the injury happened with the Bengals, McCarron's rookie season reverts to the physically unable to perform list, giving him four accrued seasons and making him an unrestricted free agent.
McCarron came close to being traded to the Cleveland Browns before last October's trade deadline, but ultimately remained in Cincinnati for the rest of his fourth season with the Bengals. The Bengals sent their approval of the trade to the NFL in time, but the Browns did not get the paperwork sent in time.
The Browns appealed to the league to allow the deal, which would have sent 2018 second- and third-round picks to the Bengals, to go through but were denied.
McCarron, who backs up Andy Dalton, told Bengals president and owner Mike Brown how much he appreciated his effort to trade him to Cleveland that would have given the quarterback an opportunity for a starting job.
"Anytime you come into a place where a guy is established like A.D., who's led them to the playoffs however many times and they are paying him that much, it's not going to happen," McCarron said last month as he packed up his locker. "It's just the way it goes. Like I said, I just want a chance to compete so I'm just waiting on that opportunity."
Bridgewater said two days after the Vikings lost in the NFC Championship game at Philadelphia -- a game in which Bridgewater was inactive -- that he expects to be a starter in the NFL in 2018.
General manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings are awaiting a decision from the league on Bridgewater's status, which he allowed was "complicated." Spielman said the decision is the NFL's to make.
If he's ruled not to have earned the accrued seasons to reach unrestricted free agency, Bridgewater would return to the Vikings under the terms of his 2017 contract at about $2 million in base salary.
Case Keenum and Sam Bradford are unrestricted free agents.
--Field Level Media