"It was just business," McCarron told the Bengals' official website. "They had to do what was best for them and I had to do what was best for me. It was never anything personal. I loved the city, loved the fans, loved everything about it. It's an awesome place to play."
McCarron's grievance centered on whether he should have spent his rookie season (2014) on the non-football injury list. An independent arbitrator ruled in the 27-year-old's favor, which will send the career backup to the open market on March 14 -- the first day of the new league year.
"It's just a blessing," McCarron told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I was going to be blessed either way because you're still in the league, you're still being able to play the game for a living, but it's just awesome just to be free now and to hopefully get that opportunity and be able to compete somewhere. That's all I've ever wanted. I'm just super excited. Just really excited that I get that opportunity now and I just can't wait to just showcase what I can do and show a team that I can lead a team and win ballgames."
McCarron hasn't started a game since taking over for Andy Dalton for the final three games of the 2015. In those three starts he completed 65.7 percent of his passes with four TDs and zero interceptions, 6.9 yards per attempt and a 102.4 passer rating. McCarron then started the Bengals playoff game, throwing 41 times (completing 56.1 percent, 5.2 YPA, 1-1 TD-INT) and briefly taking a late lead before the Pittsburgh Steelers won the game on their final possession.
There remain questions about McCarron's arm strength, and his struggles in Cincinnati once teams got tape on him. In a league devoid of starting caliber quarterbacks, however, McCarron should find plenty of suitors on the open market. Cleveland is one logical landing spot after Hue Jackson -- his former offensive coordinator -- tried to acquire McCarron at the trade deadline.
"We're going to be open to everything," he said of his impending free agency. "I'm not the one -- the people that know me and truly know me, and my family knows -- it's not about the money for me. I just love playing football. Making the money is great but I just want to play. that's what I grew up on. that's what you're raised on. Like here in the south, you're raised to love football. It's not about money. I just want to play. Whoever gives me an opportunity. I'm not going to chase the huge contract and be put in a situation that I might not be one hundred percent comfortable with just because it's a lot more money or whatever. I want to go somewhere where I can win and help the team win and we have a bright future together. I'm just super excited for this next chapter."
McCarron will finally get a fair chance to compete for a starting job and prove he can be more than a clipboard holder in the NFL.