Ex-Bills QB Makes NFL Comeback After 3 Years Out of the League

AJ McCarron

Getty AJ McCarron in 2018.

A.J. McCarron made a big bet on himself last year, and now it’s paying off for the former Buffalo Bills quarterback.

After suffering a season-ending ACL tear prior to the 2021 NFL season, McCarron decided that he wasn’t ready to end his professional football career and opted to join the XFL — even though it meant a significant pay cut from what he would earn in the NFL. After an MVP season, McCarron has now landed another NFL job and earned a chance to take a snap for the first time since the 2020 season.

A.J. McCarron Returns to Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Bengals announced on September 23 that they had signed McCarron to their practice squad. McCarron started his career with the Bengals after a stellar career at Alabama, joining the team as a fifth-round draft pick in 2014.

McCarron would go on to start three games in his rookie season, completing 66.4% of his passes for 854 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He served as a backup for the following three seasons before signing with the Bills in 2018 and competing in training camp for the chance to earn the starting job.

The Bills ultimately picked Nathan Peterman as their Week 1 starter and traded McCarron to the then-Oakland Raiders, though rookie Josh Allen ended up taking over as starter and Peterman would be released later that season.

McCarron could have a chance to play a meaningful role in Cincinnati, as starting quarterback Joe Burrow is nursing a calf injury that was aggravated in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. As NFL.com’s Michael Baca reported, Burrow missed practice on Thursday and was limited on Friday and Saturday.

McCarron’s Big Season in the XFL

While he could have tried to return to the NFL and compete for a backup position after finishing rehab on his torn ACL, McCarron told AL.com that he wanted to show his young sons he had what it took to be a starting quarterback and went to the XFL instead.

“I’m not done playing,” McCarron told Al.com. “I think I’ve shown that I can play at a high level and play on a consistent level, too. It’s been awesome to have my kids be a part of this. I don’t know what the future holds. After the season’s over, we’ll sit down as a family and with my agent and see teams he’s talked to in the [NFL] or what they’re saying. And if the situation’s right for me, we’ll decide that then, and if not, we’ll talk and figure out what’s best for us as a family and then go forward from there.”

The 33-year-old ended up leading the XFL in passing touchdowns (24) and was second in passing yards (2,150). McCarron also turned in one of the most memorable performances in the league’s history, throwing six touchdowns and 420 yards in the team’s April 22 season finale. The monster game set league records both for touchdowns and passing yards in a single game, according to AL.com.

McCarron’s season earned him league MVP honors from XFL News Hub, one of the few news outlets dedicated to sole coverage of the league.

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