INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cincinnati Bengals realize they are in an enviable position at quarterback with Andy Dalton coming off another strong season and a more than capable backup in AJ McCarron who helped lead them to the playoffs when Dalton was injured late in the 2015 season.
Most NFL teams aren't as fortunate, which is why McCarron's name continues to be brought up in trade speculation. Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin spent much of Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis speaking not about potential draft choices but a player currently under their control.
Tobin said the Bengals are willing to listen to offers for McCarron, but not just any offers.
"The phones in our office work. They always work," Tobin said. "The larger point on AJ McCarron for us is he's a very valuable piece of what we do."
Dalton passed for a career-best 4,206 yards and 18 TDs last season. He's only missed three games in his career and that was in 2015 when he fractured his thumb making a tackle following an interception, thus creating an opportunity for McCarron to showcase his skills.
It was a freak injury, but one that every NFL team fears most.
"You're always one play away from going to your backup quarterback," Tobin said. "We view our team as a team that can challenge. If you don't have a viable No. 2 that you can go to and win with, you can tank your entire season."
McCarron appeared in one game last season and did not attempt a pass. In relief of Dalton in 2015, the former Alabama Crimson Tide signal-caller passed for 832 yards and six touchdowns. He did not throw an interception in his first three starts, finishing with a 97.1 rating in seven games.
Whispers about McCarron's trade status spiked following an ESPN report this week that New England's Jimmy Garappolo was staying put. One team that could have interest in McCarron is in-state rival Cleveland, but Tobin did say that trading any player within the AFC North was not ideal. But, several other teams could come calling.
"We're not actively looking to diminish our football team by trading AJ McCarron and that diminishes our football team," Tobin said. "It has to be something we feel is valuable enough to warrant doing that."
The questions about McCarron likely will persist, but Tobin wants to remain focused on the task at hand in Indianapolis which is to make the best possible use of 11 draft picks -- the most the Bengals have had since 2009.
Tobin said the Bengals' philosophy going into the first round of this year's draft is to get the best player available and then address needs when possible in the latter rounds.
While Cincinnati's core is thought to be in the prime of their careers, this draft has added importance after the Bengals fell far short of expectations, missing the playoffs with a 6-9-1 record.
"The worst-case scenario is that we're going to get the ninth best player in this draft (in the first round)," Tobin said. "Most times, we'll go best player available. We're not going to drop down a whole level of talent to take a player for need."
One possible area of need is running back. Jeremy Hill is coming off two inconsistent campaigns. Giovani Bernard is recovering from a season-ending ACL tear. Rex Burkhead who shined when given an opportunity after Bernard went down, is likely to cash in on the free-agent market.
Tobin liked what he saw from the corps of running backs at the Combine this week.
"There are a lot of running backs in this draft," Tobin said. "It's an exciting year for that position. Not only at the top of the draft and in every round. It's going to be filled with pretty good running backs that make teams and make a difference."
--The Bengals received the maximum of four compensatory draft picks, giving them 11 choices. Cincinnati last chose 11 players in the 2009 draft. The picks are given to make up for the loss of free agents Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Reggie Nelson and Andre Smith last year. Cincinnati now has an extra draft choice in the fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds. The 11 picks ties for the most during head coach Marvin Lewis' tenure. The Bengals also had 11 choices in 2004. "We're excited to get those extra players," said Duke Tobin, director of player personnel. "We earned those picks by losing players. We're going to make use of those."
--Former K Shayne Graham, with assistance from the Bengals, sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declaring that Graham ceremonially is retiring as a Bengal. Graham kicked in the NFL for 16 seasons (2001-15) but spent six seasons in Cincinnati, his longest with one team. He is the Bengals' field-goal percentage leader at 86.76 percent. "We're flattered that Shayne has chosen to retire as a Bengal," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He's had a fine NFL career, including some strong, outstanding seasons for us. We got him just as my first season (2003) was beginning, and he was a big part of our first two playoff teams." Off the field, Graham was known for his community service. His "Kicks for Kids" program provided a wide range of assistance for at-risk children in the Cincinnati area. Graham was a past Bengals team nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. "Cincinnati means a lot to me; it still feels like home," Graham said. "I had to fight and scrap for every chance to play with other teams before the Bengals signed me. The Bengals made me feel wanted. I was able to get involved in the community and make some real friendships I still have today."