McCarron in control of no control

Posted Apr 24, 2017

One of the things that AJ McCarron could control back in the day is the splitter that Jake Peavy taught his fellow St. Paul’s Episcopal School alum when Peavy came back from the majors to visit his hometown of Mobile, Ala. But the one-time aspiring big-league hurler is learning there's only so much he can control as a back-up quarterback in the NFL.

 AJ McCarron: cool amid the trade winds.

One of the things that AJ McCarron could control back in the day is the splitter that Jake Peavy taught his fellow St. Paul’s Episcopal School alum when Peavy came back from the majors to visit his hometown of Mobile, Ala.

“I thought about it. I was 14-0 my senior year,” McCarron mused Monday of a possible big-league career. “But I told eight teams not to draft me because I was going to play football.”

It was a much simpler time. A time when he was a pint-sized Little Leaguer and didn’t even have to negotiate to get a ball from the Braves Hall-of-Fame aces in the Atlanta bullpen before a game. He might have been able to throw 3-2 splitters, but he realizes he can’t control where he plays in his fourth NFL season.

Or third, depending on whom you ask. For now. He’s under contact to the Bengals and the more the trade winds blow the more adamant it seems the Bengals aren’t going to move him as waits behind an established star in Andy Dalton.

“I’m a huge competitor. I’ve always been that way. I want to play,” said McCarron, who displayed that fierceness for all to see when he rallied the Bengals with 16 points in the fourth quarter of a play-off game.

“But it’s something I can’t control. There’s no reason to worry about it because it spills into your life and it can affect your marriage and your relationships with people. I don’t want that. A lot of people wish they could be in my shoes and get the money we to get to play a game. I love it. I’m at peace with it.”

Yet the rumor mill is always at war. It continues to grind out the notion that Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson, who oversaw McCarron’s heroics in his last game as the Bengals offensive coordinator, would like to trade for him or Tom Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Bengals, for their part, aren’t looking to trade McCarron. Bengals president Mike Brown went as far to say last month he has the best quarterback situation in the league and there would be a hefty price to pay for an AFC North team to extract McCarron.

With Thursday’s first round creeping up on the beleaguered Browns’ brain trust, it appears they aren’t looking to part with anything like the 12th pick or 33rd pick and something else for McCarron. That’s what it sounds like it would take because even though McCarron and the Bengals are in arbitration about when he becomes a free agent, the club isn’t looking to force a deal because they don’t know when they’ll lose control of him.

“It is what it is,” McCarron said. “That’s for the lawyers.”

McCarron showed his calm on the road in staking the Bengals to a 14-0 lead in a game for a 2015 bye at Mile High.

Because McCarron went on the non-football injury list for all but three weeks of his rookie year, the Bengals believe he didn’t accrue a season toward free agency. They think he’ll be a restricted free agent next year. McCarron’s side argues he should be classified an unrestricted free agent after the season.

But it’s about as friendly as it can get. McCarron won’t forget the pain of his draft ordeal three years ago, of the whispering campaign about his arm and his attitude, and of the torturous slide to the fifth round.

From day one the Bengals were insistent about his competent arm, his enormous intangibles, the natural leadership that paved the way for two national titles at Alabama, and his football intellect. He proved them right in the last four games of the season he relieved injured Andy Dalton in 2015.

“It’s great to be wanted. It really is. I’ve learned a lot from my draft process,” McCarron said. “I didn’t have the best draft process and they took a chance on me and I’ve forever been grateful for that. I love this organization for taking the opportunity when a lot of people were passing on me and they believed in me.”

McCarron is also appreciative of how the Bengals revived his shoulder that first season. When he arrived for training camp the club and McCarron opted to treat it by not undergoing surgery but with rest and an intense rehab program overseen by trainer Nick Cosgray. He also underwent a procedure that transplanted his own bone marrow into the shoulder.

“You never know how it heals,” McCarron said. “One thing I did have done was the stem cell injection in my shoulder. Nick was great for me my rookie year. We rehabbed a ton. I was throwing every day busting my butt, but I still believe that stem cell injection did a lot for my shoulder and really helped it back to even stronger than what it was when I was playing in college.”

You’d think McCarron would be viewing this week as a critical milestone of sorts. His last, best chance to get traded before this season would be the draft, one would think. But he says he hasn’t even talked to his agent in 10 days and has no idea about the rules.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” McCarron said. “I don’t even know the history of the NFL. I didn’t grow up an NFL fan. Football was my least favorite sport.”

That’s because he loved basketball. He remembers going to his grandparents with his mother and the Bulls would be on TV. They’d ask him where Michael Jordan was or Scottie Pippen and he’d find them on the screen. Not bad for three years old.

And he followed baseball, too, here the Braves were easy to root for because they won and they were relatively close. When he was about six or seven, he went to a Braves game in Houston, where the McCarrons had relatives, and the day before McCarron told his father when they were in a Houston mall that Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz were right over there.

“No they’re not,” his father said, but on further review there were the three aces drawn.

“I went up and talked to them and got a picture,” McCarron said.  “They told me to come down and see them before the game the next day. ‘While we’re warming up. Come down and see us and I’ll get you a ball.”

McCarron can’t quite remember who was doing the talking. He thinks it was Glavine or Smoltz.

“I went down there and they gave me a ball. I wish I’d kept it,” McCarron said. “I never watched the NFL until middle school and then I only watched one quarterback. Brett Favre I didn’t watch anybody else. As I got older, I loved watching the Yankees.”

That and the splitter he could control.

But …

“Nothing I can do. That’s my job,” McCarron said of backup NFL quarterback. “I’m trying to be the best guy I can be for this team. You always want your chance to play. It will happen. I just have to wait for my time.  I believe that. I trust in my ability.”


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