Before I delve into anything that could be construed as a well-formed commentary, I must preface it with the confession that despite his middling career, I have always held a soft spot for Josh McCown (and no, it’s not Luke).
After all, it was a second-year McCown who completed a 28-yard fourth-down touchdown pass for Arizona as time expired in the final week of the 2003 season to knock the Vikings out of playoff contention. It opened the door for the Brett Favre-led Packers to claim the NFC North title and appeared to flash a glimpse of the talent possessed by the quarterback out of Sam Houston State.
Since then— 12 years, nine teams, a UFL stint and, get this, 16 wins later—McCown is the starting quarterback for your Cleveland Browns.
And making this happen wasn’t easy. It turns out it’s more difficult to acquire the services of a soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback coming off a 1-10 season than it used to be.
Cleveland had to outbid the Bills to sign McCown to a three-year, $14 million deal that includes the possibility of making $6 million more in incentives.
Quarterback was on just about everyone’s offseason to-do list for the Browns though we’ve long known the options were limited. So signing a quarterback who’s bounced around and had limited career success should come as no surprise.
A resume that boasts 61 career touchdown passes against 59 interceptions and includes a season of 11 touchdowns and 14 picks as his most recent experience certainly fits the bill.
Most outlets have naturally deemed McCown a “bridge” starter, typecasting him to the role of the veteran entrusted to hold down the fort until the savior arrives. It’s the same character once played by Trent Dilfer and Jake Delhomme.
Who would he be “bridging” to, though?
It may be the Browns are expecting more, especially given the contract’s generous three-year length.
With a meager quarterback cupboard stocked with the football equivalents of SpaghettiOs and condensed milk in Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw (assuming Brian Hoyer is out), could the Browns be holding out hope that McCown is the surprise jar of Nutella hiding in the back?
Or are they just hedging their bets?
Merely hoping against hope that McCown can regain his 2013 Bears form that gave him an NFL-best QBR (I never thought I’d cite this ESPN-concocted formula, but it must mean something, right?) but knowing he would graciously accept any role, be it mentor, bridge or starter for the foreseeable future, that might come his way.
In an interview on SiriusXM Friday, McCown wasn’t just receptive to the idea playing mentor to Manziel — he was downright giddy:
“Just life in general is too short to go through it alone or just looking out for yourself all the time,” McCown said, per ESPN.com. “So if you can give up yourself to others to help someone else in their journey, I just think you’ll find so much more peace in life. So that’s my approach when I head into a quarterback room. It’s just what can I give back to the guys around me to help us be better? Because ultimately it’s going to help our team.
“Johnny is a person, and every person that I come across has value to me and they matter, and so I want to help him as much as I can with all parts of it, but to grow as a person and as a player and to help him go on and have a fruitful career.”
The cynical man in me attributes McCown’s receptivity to any role purely out of his eagerness to put pen to paper and laugh all the way to the bank, knowing an NFL team just signed a quarterback with 17 career wins and coming off a 1-10 record to a three-year deal.
But there’s no doubt his magnanimousness worked in his favor, as he was courted during free agency and could explain why McCown was in such high demand for teams in transition like the Browns and Bills.
While younger quarterbacks with higher ceilings like Mark Sanchez, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett and even the incumbent Hoyer are due to hit free agency when it opens on March 10, McCown perhaps affords the Browns more flexibility.
It stands to reason, given his willingness to take Manziel under wing, that McCown would take a “more-the-merrier approach” to adding another quarterback through free agency or via the draft or trade.
But just take a look at the aforementioned, ahem, cream of the free agent crop. With such a sorry class and the only draft QBs thought to be week-one ready in Winston and Mariota likely to be just out of the Browns’ reach even if they should package both first-round picks, it begs the question, is McCown the girl you dance with who brung ya?
A better question yet—and one whose answer might be more elusive than it appears— is he the best they could do?
The practical man in me wonders.