The Buffalo Bills waited patiently, then pounced.
As teams around the NFL struck deals with veteran quarterbacks Tuesday, the Bills stayed on the sidelines. When the NFL's new league year opened at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the team still wasn't in the game.
Then, just before 7:30 p.m., General Manager Brandon Beane made his move. At that time, the Bills announced a two-year contract with former Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron. The deal is worth $10 million, with a $6.5 million upside based on playing time, according to Pro Football Talk.
McCarron's addition immediately became the team's marquee move on the first official day of free agency.
McCarron comes to the Bills after spending the first four years of his professional career as Andy Dalton's backup with the Bengals. A former fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama, McCarron played in just 11 regular-season games over that time, throwing for 920 yards and six touchdowns, with two interceptions. In a wild-card playoff start against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015, he completed 23 of 41 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
There is always an allure of the unknown when it comes to quarterbacks in the NFL, and McCarron steps into a great opportunity in Buffalo. The only other quarterback on the Bills' roster is second-year veteran Nathan Peterman. McCarron's acquisition doesn't figure to take the Bills out of the quarterback market at the draft – the expectation remains that the team will move up to select one – but it gives him a chance to establish himself as an NFL starter, provided he can beat out Peterman and a rookie (if drafted).
If that's the case, the Bills would have the option of trading McCarron after the 2018 season if they wanted to turn things over to a rookie. McCarron had a decorated college career, leading the Crimson Tide to a 36-4 record during his three seasons. He became the first quarterback in the BCS era to lead his team to back-to-back national championships in 2011-12, and in 2013 was a first-team All-American. That same year, he received the Maxwell Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given annually to the best quarterback in college football.
McCarron, 27, won a grievance against the Bengals to reach unrestricted free agency. He spent a long portion of his rookie season on the non-football injury list, and the Bengals did not activate him from that list until Dec. 9. That meant McCarron didn't have enough time to earn an accrued season (six regular-season games on the 53-man roster). McCarron argued that he was healthy and should have been activated before that, a position that an arbiter agreed with. As a result, McCarron got credit for an accrued season, which gives him four such years, the minimum required for a player to be an unrestricted free agent.
The Bengals had an agreement to trade McCarron to the Cleveland Browns at the NFL's trade deadline in exchange for second- and third-round draft picks, but a paperwork error meant the deal wasn't completed in time. The Browns were expected to be suitors for McCarron when free agency opened, but instead traded a third-round pick to the Bills for Tyrod Taylor.
That trade became official shortly after the 4 p.m. start of the new league year. Taylor was headed to Cleveland on Wednesday for a Thursday news conference.
"We view Tyrod as a perfect fit to lead our team,' coach Hue Jackson said in a statement. "He possesses the qualities we want of a starting quarterback. He's smart, a leader, and an efficient passer that doesn't turn the ball over. He's a winner and has been very productive as a starting quarterback in this league. The expectation is for Tyrod to come in and be our quarterback, get himself acclimated to our offense and help us get to winning as quickly as possible."
Additionally, the team's trade of Cordy Glenn to the Bengals (as part of a deal to move up in the first round) was made official.
“I’m looking for the opportunity to win," Glenn told the team website. "I like to compete. I think it will be a good fit for me.”
The team also announced the signings of four players — all on the defensive side of the ball.
Before McCarron was acquired, the Bills' focus in free agency had been on rebuilding their defensive front seven. That included the signing of former Washington Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy on Wednesday.
Murphy, who projects as a defensive end in the Bills’ 4-3 scheme, joins Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson at the position. Bills coach Sean McDermott frequently rotates his defensive linemen. Murphy’s contract has a reported value of up to $30 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That’s starter-level money.
In addition to Murphy, the additions of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and safety Rafael Bush — which were confirmed to The Buffalo News on Tuesday — were made official. Additionally, former New York Jets linebacker Julian Stanford signed a two-year deal. He’s expected to provide defensive depth and be an immediate contributor on special teams.
Lotulelei, 28, got a five-year contract, while Murphy signed on for three years and Bush got a two-year pact. Their additions significantly reshaped what was a weak spot for the Bills in 2017. Buffalo’s run defense ranked 29th in the NFL, allowing 124.6 yards per game. The Bills also finished tied for 29th in sacks, with 27. Murphy will be counted on to help improve that number. In his last full season, he had nine sacks in 2016. He missed all of the 2017 season recovering from a torn ACL and MCL suffered last summer. He’s expected to be fully recovered in time for the start of training camp.
The deals for Bush and Stanford are modest. Bush can make $3.5 million over two years, while Stanford can earn $3 million. Interestingly, the monetary terms of the deals with Lotulelei have not yet been divulged.