With exactly a month before the NFL's free agency period opens up, Kirk Cousins undoubtedly sits at the top of the most wanted list for a number of teams.

Healthy quarterbacks rarely hit true free agency, and while there is some bluster that the Redskins might use a franchise tag on Cousins despite already trading for Alex Smith, odds are the Washington passer will hit the market. That means big, big money is coming Cousins' way.

There is a situation to watch, however, in Cincinnati. 

A.J. McCarron has been the backup to Andy Dalton for the last three seasons and has played well in three starts for the Bengals.


After winning a grievance against the Bengals to become a free agent, McCarron could become a very interesting commodity on the open market.

The Broncos, long connected as suitors for Cousins, reportedly would be interested in McCarron. Browns head coach Hue Jackson worked with McCarron in his previous stop as Bengals offensive coordinator, and Cleveland obviously needs a QB. Plenty of other teams would be interested in the former Alabama QB with a 64 percent completion percentage in three games in the NFL. 

Here's why it could matter to Cousins: McCarron will be exponentially cheaper in free agency. 

There are teams and coaches that truly believe Cousins will be an elite QB in the NFL. But two of those teams and coaches, Sean McVay in Los Angeles and Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, have quarterbacks and won't be bidders on Cousins. 


If Denver is interested in McCarron, does that mean they're less interested in Cousins? The Broncos don't have much salary cap space, though they could release or restructure players to create room. Some might wonder if John Elway would want to purge players to add Cousins if he can keep his squad intact and add McCarron?


Make no mistake, the market for Cousins will still be robust. Arizona, Buffalo, Denver and the New York Jets certainly need a quarterback, Minnesota might, and other teams will emerge as well. 

McCarron might not hurt Cousins' market, but should true free agency come for the Bengals QB, it will mean one less job in the marketplace. 

The quarterback carousel is likely primed for the most interesting free agency period in a long time. Cousins is at the top of the list, but his price tag will illustrate that. Considering Eagles backup QB Nick Foles just won Super Bowl MVP, NFL front offices will be considering every possible option. 

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