AJ McCarron has heard all of the modest expectations attached to his signing with the Buffalo Bills.
He's supposed to be a "bridge," someone keeping the seat warm until the Bills get their "real" quarterback with a first-round pick in next month's NFL Draft.
Such talk never discouraged the former Cincinnati Bengals backup from choosing to sign as a free agent with the Bills Wednesday.
"I thought it was just a great opportunity for myself to be able to come up here and be able to compete for a starting job," McCarron told reporters at One Bills Drive Thursday. "And that's all you can ask for in this league. That was the main thing I was saying when I was in Cincinnati. It wasn't about money, it wasn't about anything. My background, I come from absolutely nothing. I've only just known ball. And I just wanted a chance to compete and play, and it felt like I would have that opportunity here.
"I think just being in the situation and seeing the situation whether they're going to draft somebody or not, I think it's just a great opportunity to be able to compete and really showcase, day in and day out, what you're able to do and have a chance to achieve the ultimate goal and that's the start."
There's speculation that the Bills are poised to select one of the so-called top-four quarterback prospects -- USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield or Wyoming's Josh Allen -- after trading up from the 21st to the 12th overall pick while still owning the 22nd choice to possibly work into another upward trade.
McCarron insists he isn't allowing himself to get caught up in any such discussion.
"I try not to ever waste any mental thought on it, because it's something I can't control," he said. "And there's no reason for me to really put any thought into it, just to be honest with you, just because it creates mental clutter for my process that I need to do day in and day out to be the best player I need to be."
The moment McCarron's signing was announced, media and fans identified him as the "bridge quarterback" the Bills were expected to acquire before the draft.
According to conventional wisdom, if he does win the starting job, he won't keep it beyond the 2018 season. It might, in fact, be something that lasts a matter of games. At the first sign that McCarron is struggling, there will be calls for the rookie, whoever that might be, to take over.
McCarron shrugs at how his role is widely perceived.
"Well, I think a lot of people have labels," he said. "You can either let it affect you and how you go about your work and let that define you, or you change everybody’s thought process on you. That’s always been my mindset -- to change everybody that has any doubt or anything and just come in and work my tail off. Really, just show this organization, from everybody from the top to the bottom, that I’m here to work and be a team guy and try to help this team win in any way possible."
After leading Alabama to back-to-back BCS national championships in 2011 and 2012, and posting a 36-4 record in three years with the Crimson Tide, McCarron found himself in a humbling place in the NFL. The Bengals made him a fifth-round draft pick (164th overall) in 2014, and he spent the next four seasons backing up Andy Dalton.
For his pro career, McCarron has three regular-season starts and a playoff start.
How difficult was it do more watching than playing?
"It’s always tough as a competitor, but I also knew the situation I was going in to," McCarron said. "AD had been an established starter and had done a great job for them in the Cincy organization. So I knew the situation I was coming in to.
"My thought process was push AD to be the best player he can be, push us both and then learn to really almost be a servant again rather than a leader and then figure out the best way to help the team by another role. And that’s what I tried to do."