Bengals quarterback who nearly went to the Browns in botched trade is reportedly fighting to become a free agent after the season

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    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron has filed a grievance that will determine whether or not he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Bengals agreed to trade McCarron to the Cleveland Browns last week, but the Browns failed to notify the league office before the 4 p.m. trade deadline. With both McCarron and Andy Dalton on the roster, the Bengals will have options at quarterback if the ruling goes in their favor.

For someone who played his last official snap nearly two years ago, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron is having a strange season.

The Bengals agreed to trade McCarron to the Cleveland Browns for a pair of draft picks last week, but the deal fell through when the Browns failed to notify the league before the 4 p.m. trade deadline.

Now, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it has come to light that McCarron filed a grievance against the Bengals earlier this year and is currently awaiting ruling on his case. If the outcome goes in his favor, he will be able to skip restricted free agency and become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The reported grievance dates back to 2014, McCarron’s rookie season. Despite the fact that the Mobile native initially passed his post-draft physical, the Bengals placed him on the non-football injury list with a shoulder issue during training camp. McCarron contends that he was healthy enough to return to the active roster that summer, which would have made 2014 his rookie year, but was instead stashed on the NFI list until December 9, delaying the start of his career by a full season.

Without that extra year of service time, McCarron is not yet eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Unrestricted free agency would provide a big boost to McCarron’s value. To sign a restricted free agent, teams must send a draft pick to the player’s original organization – in McCarron’s case, it would probably be a first round pick. Draft selections have real value, so restricted free agents have notably diminished earning power.

McCarron’s grievance adds new intrigue to last week’s failed trade. Two high draft picks is a hefty price to pay for a player with just eight weeks remaining on his contract, so the Browns’ failure to complete the deal now looks awfully fortuitous. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk speculated that the team may have “‘accidentally'” botched the trade, while CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported on rumors that the front office “sabotaged” the deal.

Much like former Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who was traded to the 49ers in a deadline deal, McCarron has looked terrific in limited NFL action, posting six touchdown passes and a 97.1 passer rating across three starts. What’s more, Schefter reports that both the Browns and the Washington Redskins could make offers for current starter Andy Dalton, who is finished with the guaranteed money portion of his contract – both teams have head coaches, Hue Jackson and Jay Gruden, who previously served as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator.

No matter who they see as their quarterback of the future, the Bengals should fight hard to keep their options open. The failed trade may have damaged their relationship with McCarron, but he can still help the organization going forward.

The team will play its next game on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.