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How AJ McCarron’s unrestricted free agency will affect the quarterback market

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It’s also starting a new trend with quarterbacks in free agency.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

AJ McCarron won his grievance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, officially making him an unrestricted free agent starting March 14.

While that’s a big win for McCarron, the implications of being named an unrestricted free agent mean more than just him being available and getting a raise. It’s going to affect the entire quarterback market in free agency.

Kirk Cousins is the biggest name in this year’s quarterback class of free agents. But there could also be Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and Josh McCown up for grabs. What happens with the Vikings quarterbacks has yet to be seen, but there’s a chance at least two out of the three could be hitting the market.

In the case that the Vikings retain two of the three, McCarron’s value could be even higher heading into free agency. Here’s how he’s going to affect the market overall.

There’s yet another option beyond Kirk Cousins.

Cousins is the big prize that most quarterback-needy teams are going to be courting. With his unrestricted free agency, McCarron automatically becomes one of the more coveted backup plans for the teams that are aiming to sign Cousins. But he could also be a primary option for a team like the Cleveland Browns.

It’s not a secret that the Browns have been interested in McCarron. They tried to get him at the trade deadline this past October but didn’t call it in on time, so he remained a Bengal.

You might be asking, with a ton of cap space and never having a good quarterback, why would the Browns settle for McCarron over Cousins? For starters, the Browns might not want to give Cousins what will probably end up matching or even eclipsing Jimmy Garoppolo’s record-breaking contract at $27.5 million per year.

Then, there’s probably still interest in McCarron for Cleveland, where he would reunite with Hue Jackson. McCarron’s had just four NFL starts — all in 2015 while Andy Dalton was injured. Three of those were in the regular season, where he completed 66 percent of his passes for 854 yards, six touchdowns, and two picks. The Browns could take on McCarron for much less than Cousins and use the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks to put pieces around him. They could even take one of those picks and select a quarterback to grow behind McCarron.

This would make dominos fall faster.

This is how free agency works. There are one or two big prizes, and once those are gone, a domino effect of signings starts happening. It goes much quicker than it took to get the big fish off the board.

If a team like the Browns, Broncos, Cardinals, or Jaguars decides to give McCarron a chance, another team could find itself out of the Cousins sweepstakes before he’s even signed. It would lead them to sign one of the other quarterbacks on the market like Tyrod Taylor, who is not a free agent yet but will likely be soon.

In the grand scheme of things, this perhaps doesn’t matter — but it’s going to get guys on rosters faster than they might have been otherwise. It could also force teams to make some ill-advised decisions and make them overpay for lesser talent.

Teams are becoming more willing to gamble on quarterbacks.

McCarron’s situation is pretty similar to that of Mike Glennon’s last year. Glennon had a limited sample size, but he was able to land $18.5 million guaranteed after also not having an NFL start for two years. He — like McCarron is today — was 27 years old.

That’s not to say that McCarron will be unsuccessful in a Glennon-like fashion. After all, Glennon had just four starts before the Bears decided to pull the plug and throw Mitchell Trubisky into the fire.

But a trend is starting in the NFL where players in situations similar to McCarron and Glennon are getting a chance as a starter. The quarterback position has never been more important than it is now. With a rising salary cap, the contracts that these quarterbacks get will only grow, too.