Now they can sign him outright.
An arbitrator’s ruling on Thursday made McCarron an unrestricted free agent. As the Browns continue to assess what to do with the quarterback position in light of Alex Smith's being traded to Washington, McCarron has to be a real option. He’s 27. He spent four seasons in Cincinnati and started four games when Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator. He completed 62 percent of his passes in those games and would have won a playoff game had the Bengals not imploded defensively.
The Browns were willing to give up second- and third-round picks for McCarron at the trade deadline, but didn’t get the required paperwork in on time. It figures he will be a top free-agent option in March.
Here’s a look at the likelihood, or lack thereof, of signing the free-agent options for the Browns:
McCarron: He will be compensated beyond his production in Cincinnati, but he figures to shoot to the top of the Browns' options now that he’s unrestricted. Jackson knows him, he won at Alabama and he’s 27, which means he may be viewed as the perfect combination to hold the position while the player the Browns draft -- and they will still take a quarterback in the first round -- grows into the job. Odds: Even.
Kirk Cousins, UFA from Washington: Cousins will cost a small fortune, which is fine if the Browns decide he’s the guy and they are willing to pony up. If that happens, Cousins would be the team’s starter for at least two seasons, so the Browns would also have to weigh if it’s worth spending $32 million or $33 million per season on a veteran when they could get a QB with the first overall pick in the draft. There also will be competition for Cousins, most seriously from the Jets, Vikings and Broncos. Odds: 10-1.
Case Keenum, UFA from Minnesota: Keenum may be a good option No. 4, but the problem is he’s option No. 4. Keenum would be a good mentor for a young quarterback and he won 11 games a year ago in Minnesota, but the fact that the Vikings appear willing to let him walk after he took them to the NFC Championship Game says something about him. Odds: 12-1.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia: New GM John Dorsey would have to complete a trade with the Eagles because Foles is under contract, but he has to be an option coming off the way he played following the injury to Carson Wentz. The question worth asking is why the Eagles would be willing to trade Foles when having him as a backup to Wentz won them a Super Bowl. Odds: 18-1.
Josh McCown, UFA from the Jets: McCown’s willingness to work with young quarterbacks makes him appealing, and he played well with the Jets last season and when he was with the Browns before that. His main problem in Cleveland was staying healthy. Odds: 20-1.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo: This assumes the Bills allow him to get to free agency, which they didn’t do last season. A year ago the Browns were very interested in Taylor, who is 22-20 as a starter. But Taylor threw for just 189.6 yards per game and had a passer rating of 56.4 in 2017. Odds: 25-1.
Chase Daniel, UFA from New Orleans: He has played eight seasons, has one win and he’s 31. This long shot is tied to the Browns due to Dorsey’s past association with Daniel as a backup in Kansas City, but the odds seem long. Odds: 30-1.
Landry Jones, Pittsburgh: He’s under contract for another season, but new offensive coordinator Todd Haley knows him. Perhaps the Steelers would send him to Cleveland for a third-round pick. Perhaps not. Odds: 40-1.
Teddy Bridgewater, UFA from Minnesota: He has hardly played for two years and is coming back from a devastating knee injury. Odds: 50-1.
Mike Glennon, Chicago: Same comment for the guy who struck it rich in free agency a year ago: Giving Kizer a second season makes more sense. Odds: 75-1.