Kirk Cousins is undoubtedly the greatest free agent prize in the player pool, but AJ McCarron is the man who holds the key to the NFL Draft and the New York Giants and Jets future plans.
While Kirk Cousins will be the most coveted and highest paid free agent when the process opens on Monday, March 12, he won’t be the most important. AJ McCarron will be.
Whether the New York Jets can land Cousins, who is deciding on four teams, remains to be seen. The Jets will be rivaled by the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals.
Gang Green will have the most cap space to secure the signature of Cousins, but do not match up with the Minnesota Vikings or the Denver Broncos from a talent perspective.
AJ McCarron could also be on option for the teams who miss out on Cousins. However, McCarron was the subject of a botched trade between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.
McCarron would later file a grievance with the NFL, leading to his impending free agency. Former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson highly covets McCarron, so expect the Browns to push to acquire the Alabama product.
If this happens, expect bedlam to all of the mock drafts out on the web. With McCarron employed, Jackson and GM John Dorsey will have options with their cap space top-fivetop five draft picks.
The signing of McCarron could eliminate the need for a first round quarterback prospect. Remember, the Browns used a second round pick to select Deshone Kizer in last year’s draft.
Kizer, who showed flashes of NFL skill, could spend the next few seasons as a backup and learning from McCarron. This removes the need for another developmental quarterback in the first round and sets the stage for a quick rebuild.
With the first and fourth picks of the draft, there are plenty of options. Saquon Barkley, who destroyed the NFL combine and most of the Big Ten, is highly regarded and is the perfect weapon for McCarron.
Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson would add stability to the offensive line and protection for McCarron. If Joe Thomas decides on a year or two more, the pair could be the catalyst for a birth of a potent offense.
John Dorsey also has the most cap space to utilize for filing in the gaps left by the former regime. McCarron will be the priority, but expect to hear that the Browns are in on every top free agent who is not a quarterback.
What does this mean for the New York Giants, Jets and the rest of the draft?
For the Giants, if Saquon Barkley or Quenton Nelson go with the first overall pick, they can select the player not selected. Both players would fill a need for the Giants, who will give it one more go with Eli Manning.
The trade for Alec Ogletree did anything but disguise the poker face of Dave Gettleman. Using two picks from this year to acquire the linebacker sends the message to the team that they are comfortable with backup quarterback Davis Webb.
The Giants could also trade the pick to a quarterback-needy franchise and replenish the picks traded for Ogletree. Obviously, the new picks would be more valuable.
While the signing of McCarron benefits the Giants well, what it would do for the Jets could do wonders. The Browns would be one less team searching for a franchise quarterback in the first round.
This all hinges on the outcome of the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, of course. If Mike Maccagnan comes up empty with his sell job to Cousins, the quarterback prospect he covets most has a better chance of falling to the team at six.
Maccagnan could be spooked into a trade by the Denver Broncos, another quarterback-hungry organization. A trade with the Indianapolis Colts could give the Jets the choice of quarterback.
Trading with the Colts will cost less in compensation than trading with the Browns to get to the top pick. Again, a situation that would benefit the Jets.
For the rest of league and mainly quarterback-needy teams, the Browns no longer needing a quarterback could send the entire NFL Draft into chaos.
Teams like the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills become real players to land a quarterback prospect, they figured they would need to pay an exorbitant amount to get. The rippling effects could be felt in at least the first two rounds.
The landscape of football will change in the next month and a half leading up to the draft. The chaos of the NFL Draft lies on the signature of one former backup.