In barely 48 hours, the backup quarterback has gone from just another player in the middle of a somewhat crowded quarterback field to the primary backup behind Andy Dalton.
First it was team president Mike Brown who gave McCarron a vote of confidence Sunday night in Phoenix, telling Bengals.com and the Cincinnati Enquirer that McCarron would get a shot this year to be Dalton's top backup. Then Tuesday, near the end of his lengthy interview session at the meetings' AFC coaches' breakfast, Marvin Lewis took the belief in McCarron a step further.
"Although we didn't get the opportunity to get down the road with him as much as we'd like [last year], AJ McCarron has everything that you want in a successful quarterback in the NFL," Lewis said.
McCarron spent nearly all of last season on the physically unable to perform list as he rehabbed his throwing shoulder. The Bengals said the fifth-round pick came to minicamp last May with tightness in his shoulder from his college days.
In addition to what he mentioned above about McCarron, it was what Lewis said to follow that statement up that made it likely the second-year quarterback would enter this summer as the No. 2 signal-caller behind Dalton.
"We'll have some additions to the position that AJ will compete with," Lewis said.
Certainly those additions could come in free agency, but the pool of top veteran talent is virtually depleted at this point. Sure, Jason Campbell remains an unrestricted free agent, and like Lewis said Tuesday, the 33-year-old still is an option to return.
But it's beginning to grow more likely that the Bengals let Campbell leave and add quarterback depth via the draft. With Monday night's compensatory picks announcement that the Bengals had nine total draft picks instead of the eight they were half bracing for, they have the means to pick up a quarterback and address another needs. The problem, though, is that this isn't the deepest quarterback class. Once the top four are picked, there's a rather significant drop-off.
It all means that if Cincinnati drafts a quarterback and lets Campbell go, McCarron almost has to come into the rest of the offseason as the de facto No. 2.
Let's be clear, though, that the players who get added to the mix are not expected to compete with Dalton. Similarly, don't expect McCarron to compete with Dalton. Sure, deep down, the Bengals may want their youngest quarterbacks to push the starter, but they aren't looking to replace him anytime soon. Lewis doesn't value starting a quarterback competition nor controversy.
"We just signed Andy long term," Lewis said, referencing last August's six-year extension worth up to $115 million. "So we committed ourselves to Andy long term. We feel really good about him, and now we're continuing to get better with the pieces around Andy. Andy's done a lot of things that not a lot of people have done. We've got to keep playing better around him, and that'll be helpful to Andy."
It remains to be seen if McCarron does indeed claim the No. 2 quarterback spot. It also could be a while before he eventually takes over for Dalton. The starter's deal provides the Bengals ways of comfortably releasing him beginning after this season based on his performance.
If McCarron someday becomes the next Bengals starter, perhaps these owners meetings will be seen as the moment his climb to the top began.