AJ McCarron files grievance vs. Bengals, wants to be unrestricted free agent in 2018

McCarron wants to be unrestricted free agent in 2018 (0:34)

Adam Schefter explains how Bengals backup QB AJ McCarron's grievance against the Bengals will determine his future. (0:34)

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron, at the center of headlines this past week, soon will be the center of headlines again.

McCarron filed a grievance against the Bengals earlier this year and is awaiting a ruling from an arbitrator that will determine whether he is an unrestricted or restricted free agent after this season, sources tell ESPN.

The ruling, expected sometime this winter, could determine whether the Browns are able to sign McCarron to a potentially lucrative contract without any compensation to Cincinnati or whether Cleveland would have to trade for his rights.

The arbitrator's decision will impact the free agent quarterback class of 2018, and could help influence who is playing the position in Cleveland. The Browns also could decide to turn their attention this offseason to Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who played under Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson in Cincinnati.

If the arbitrator rules that McCarron is a restricted free agent, Cincinnati likely would place a first-round tender on him, which would make it difficult for Cleveland or any other team to simply sign him away to an offer sheet, sources told ESPN.

The Browns agreed to trade second- and third-round picks to the Bengals in a deal that would have sent McCarron to Cleveland on Tuesday. But the NFL denied the deal because Cleveland failed to notify the league before the 4 p.m. ET deadline.

McCarron's grievance dates back to his rookie season in 2014, when the Bengals drafted him in the fifth round. McCarron initially passed his post-draft physical, but the Bengals placed him on the non-football injury (NFI) list at the start of training camp due to a shoulder issue.

In McCarron's opinion, he was healthy enough to come off the NFI list during training camp, which would have counted his rookie year towards free agency. But Cincinnati didn't add McCarron to its active roster until Dec. 9, meaning it was too late for him to accrue a season toward his free agency.

Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, a player receives an accrued season that counts toward free agency if he were eligible to play in six regular-season games.

Dalton is finished with the guaranteed money portion of his contract; his $13.7 million salary for next season is not guaranteed, and Cincinnati can trade or release him without any salary-cap charges, according to a review of his deal.

Dalton always enjoyed playing for Jackson and Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who both previously served as offensive coordinators in Cincinnati and who both could be in need of a quarterback. Both Jackson and Gruden liked Dalton as well, a source told ESPN.

Washington could be in need of a starting quarterback if Kirk Cousins, who is on an expiring contract, leaves as a free agent.

So depending on what happens with McCarron's grievance against the Bengals, Cincinnati could have offers for two of its quarterback this offseason.