Bengals look to keep Andy Dalton in pocket.
INDIANAPOILIS - Even as the NFL digested the news Wednesday that the Patriots aren't moving their backup quarterback, the Bengals made it clear they're not shopping AJ McCarron.
Not only are they not manning the Paul Brown Stadium phones, but the Bengals are exploring keeping McCarron beyond his deal. Duke Tobin, the club's director of player personnel, acknowledged Wednesday that's an issue most likely to be decided by an arbitrator but that's how valuable they see their backup quarterback.
McCarron signed a four-year deal when the Bengals picked him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, but there's a debate on whether he accrued a year of NFL experience when he spent most of his rookie year on the non-football injury list with shoulder problems lingering from his career at Alabama.
"We do know we have him for another year and that's valuable and if there's a second year hopefully we come to an agreement to have him here longer," Tobin said on the first day of media availability at the NFL scouting combine. "We want to be respectful of his situation and ultimately it will be decided by someone other than AJ and someone other than the Cincinnati Bengals as to what's correct and what's not."
But the uncertainty doesn't appear to be fueling the Bengals' desire to unload McCarron even though a report emerged Wednesday that the Patriots aren't going to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, leaving McCarron as one of the only young veterans as an option.
Tobin didn't deny there has been interest in years past and indicated since McCarron is still a Bengal because the compensation wasn't enough. And while he said the Bengals will listen to any and all comers, he left the impression they're not actively trying to push him.
"The phones at our offices work. They always work," Tobin said. "We listen to what everyone is thinking. We're not actively looking to diminish our football team by trading AJ McCarron and that diminishes our football team.
"He's a very valuable piece of what we do. It's not like we don't have a plan for him. He plays a very valuable position and you're always one play away from going to your backup quarterback. We view our team as team that can challenge. A team that can be in the mix to challenge and if you don't have a viable No. 2 quarterback you can go to and win with you can tank your entire season. He's a very valuable piece of what we do. If somebody wants to call and talk to us, call and talk to us. But they're going to find out we value AJ McCarron quite a bit." Although McCarron is 2-2 in four NFL starts, he displayed the same confidence and state craft he had while winning two national titles for the Crimson Tide. Relieving the injured Andy Dalton down the stretch of the 2015 AFC North title season, McCarron lost a Monday night game in Denver in overtime that would have given the Bengals home field advantage throughout the postseason and he lost his first play-off start despite leading the Bengals to a lead with 1:50 left on 16 fourth-quarter points.
"We're in the AJ McCarron business. He's a good player. He's proven valuable," Tobin said. "He elevates our offense even when he's not on the field by the way he works and the way he leads and the preparedness that he has when called upon. There's going to have to be something pretty valuable for us to be out of that business."
But, yes, they will listen. Even to arch-rival, in-state, AFC-North villain Cleveland.
But don't get carried away.
"It's not ideal," Tobin said..
This gallery features photos of current Bengals players at past NFL Combines (AP Photos)