Many thought his rather strong five-game relief appearance would make him good offseason trade bait. If the Bengals entered March needing depth at another position or desired extra draft picks, a swap for McCarron made perfect sense.
Well, we're in March and a trade hasn't happened. Nor will it happen. And no one should be surprised.
Back on Jan. 11, two days after the Bengals' wild-card round loss to the Steelers, coach Marvin Lewis made it abundantly clear the Bengals had no interest in trading McCarron. They were not entertaining the thought of sending McCarron to whichever team then-offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would join as a head coach. Sure, having McCarron might give Jackson some familiarity in his new environment, but what would it do for the Bengals?
They like him.
They really, really like him.
"We're glad we have him. He's what we expected," Lewis said two days after the playoff loss. "He's mature and handled the situation after the football game with what you want to see. I'm proud of him, and proud of what he did, and I know he'll be nothing but better next season ... and that's good for us."
Lewis was asked how good he felt about his quarterback situation with Dalton returning as starter and McCarron as the backup.
"The best since 2004 or '05 with Jon [Kitna] and Carson [Palmer]," the coach said. "We feel pretty good about things."
You can go back to Jan. 11 to know McCarron wasn't going anywhere.
Officially, McCarron started four regular-season games and one playoff game. And he made a good impression in Cincinnati's Week 14 game against Pittsburgh when he came off the bench in the second quarter after Dalton broke the thumb on his throwing hand.
The Bengals lost that game, but McCarron was 22-for-32 passing on 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Aside from the turnovers, he played well against a tough defense in the first legitimate action of his career. A week later, he earned his first career win at San Francisco. The week after that, in Denver, the Bengals lost in overtime after his botched shotgun snap. Otherwise, he played exceptionally well. In a road night game against the eventual Super Bowl champion, he had the Bengals up quickly, 14-0.
Then there was the playoff game. Take away a late-fourth quarter fumble by running back Jeremy Hill, and McCarron might have led the Bengals to their first playoff win in 25 years.
Now why, when you have a capable backup like that, do you give him to someone else?
Don't forget, injuries at the quarterback position were a major storyline in 2015. A dozen teams had starting quarterbacks who needed to be replaced for four games or more in 2015, and Denver might have been the only team that had a backup quarterback situation that worked out more favorably than Cincinnati's.