The Cincinnati Bengals held their rookie mini-camp less than two weeks ago, and already the team is growing restless at the quarterback position. This maneuvering has caught two excellent Mid-American Conference quarterbacks in its wake.
On Monday, the Bengals announced that they had signed Joe Licata, former signal caller of the Buffalo Bulls. At the same time, the team waived former Bowling Green Falcons quarterback Matt Johnson, who had signed with the team as an undrafted free agent immediately following the 2016 NFL Draft.
NEWS: #Bengals sign rookie QB Joe Licata (Buffalo) and waive rookie QB Matt Johnson (Bowling Green)— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) May 16, 2016
This comes as what must be shocking news for Johnson, as well as for BGSU fans. Several news outlets had published stories full of praise for Johnson's mini-camp work, including PennLive, the Dayton Daily News and our own sister SB Nation site, Cincy Jungle.
Despite his lack of prototypical NFL size, Johnson's numbers at Bowling Green were impeccable. In essentially two years of games, he threw for 8,846 yards and 73 touchdowns. He fell just 54 passing yards shy of 5,000 as a senior and had a 46-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Johnson also threw the best deep ball in all of college football last season, as we discussed in a pre-draft post a few weeks back. You can refresh your memory on that here.
Joe Licata did not receive a free agent contract following the draft. Instead, he received an invitation to try out with the Buffalo Bills at their rookie mini-camp. He was not successful in earning a longer look from head coach Rex Ryan, but he was able to show enough to develop interest from the Bengals, who worked out Licata last weekend.
Licata threw for 9,485 yards as a three-year starter for the Bulls but never surpassed 3,000 yards in an individual season. His best season came in his junior year, when he threw for 2,647 yards in just 345 attempts (an average of 7.7 per attempt) and had 29 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. He ended the season with a touchdown pass every 11.9 attempts, which was actually better than the 12.4 mark that Johnson put up as a senior.
Unfortunately, Licata's numbers declined significantly as a senior. He had 104 more attempts but just 322 more yards than as a junior, which dropped his yards per attempt rate to 6.6. His completion percentage declined, and his touchdown-to-interception rate was just 16:15.
Granted, Licata never had the personnel around him that Johnson did, nor did Licata play in a numbers-friendly offense. However, it's hard to see how this move makes much sense.
With all that said, this may be meaningless in the long run. Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron are entrenched as the Bengals' #1 and #2 quarterbacks, and Cincinnati is not known as a team that would carry three quarterbacks on their active roster. The best case scenario for Licata or Johnson would be to compete with Keith Wenning for a spot on the Bengals' practice squad.
Licata will likely serve as a camp body and little more, possibly surviving to the first round of training camp cuts but not beyond. Johnson, on the other hand, should probably count this as a blessing. He is now free to seek out other opportunities with teams whose quarterback situations are much more unsettled. Many people have connected Johnson with the Arizona Cardinals, and we know that the Pittsburgh Steelers love MAC quarterbacks. You also cannot discount the San Francisco 49ers, who run an offensive system roughly similar to the one Johnson ran at BGSU.
In any event, this is a great opportunity for Licata, and it's highly doubtful that we've heard the last from Matt Johnson.