Welcome to the Spotlight. Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today's player in the spotlight is Josh McCown. With a new offense and a new starting quarterback this year McCown is the obvious choice to kick off the season.
Josh McCown is a 6' 4", 225 pound, 38 year old quarterback out of Sam Houston State and SMU. McCown was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 81st overall pick in the third round of the 2002 draft. McCown had a poor college career at SMU, completing just 51% of his passes for just a 6.1 yards per attempt average in his first three years, with more interceptions (31) than touchdowns (27). Facing being benched for his senior season McCown transferred to Sam Houston State, where he flourished, completing 60% of his passes for an 8.1 yards per attempt average, 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.
After his senior season Josh McCown was invited to the NFL Combine, where he put on a show. McCown ran a 4.59 40 yard dash, had an extraordinary vertical leap of 38.5 inches, and ran the 20 yard shuttle in a ridiculous 3.9 seconds. Those are numbers more associated with wide receiver prospects than quarterbacks. The 20 yard shuttle time is the second fastest ever recorded by a quarterback at the Combine. His SPARQ score is the 5th highest ever recorded by a quarterback. And lest you think at age 38 his crazy athleticism is long gone, let it be known that just two years ago in a pickup basketball game with some fellow NFL players McCown threw down a 360 dunk! This old dude still has some serious hops.
But can he play quarterback? Well ... not so much. Josh McCown has bounced around from team to team in his long NFL career, never finding a home where he could be the starting quarterback for long. McCown was a backup for his first two years in the league before taking over as the starter in Arizona in 2004. He started 9 games, then was benched due to poor play in favor of Shaun King. In 2005 the Cardinals signed Kurt Warner and McCown was again relegated to backup duty, leading to his eventual departure from Arizona as a free agent at the end of the 2005 season.
McCown signed with the Detroit Lions in 2006, believing he would start, but Jon Kitna beat McCown out for the starting job and McCown never threw a pass for the Lions. He did, however, start to work out as a wide receiver, and in fact caught two passes on his only two targets against the Arizona Cardinals that year. In 2007 McCown moved on to the Oakland Raiders, where he beat out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job. Injuries and poor play once again led to McCown’s benching, as Culpepper and JaMarcus Russell both got substantial playing time at various points in the season. In 2008 McCown signed a two year deal with the Miami Dolphins, where he was named the starter in the offseason. However, in August 2008 the Dolphins signed Chad Pennington, leading to McCown being traded to the Carolina Panthers, where he backed up Jake Delhomme for two years. In 2010 MCown was out of the NFL, starting at quarterback for the UFL Hartford Colonials and achieving the highest passer rating in the UFL that year.
After one year in the UFL the San Francisco 49ers signed McCown to a one year deal, but he was released just prior to the start of the 2011 season. The Chicago Bears signed McCown in November 2011 as a backup, and he filled a backup role for the Bears through the 2012 season. In 2013 Jay Cutler got injured and McCown was thrust into a starting role with the Bears. He made the most of it, throwing for 13 touchdowns and just one interception in eight games, five of which he started. McCown’s passer rating was an extraordinary 109 in 2013, after never having thrown for better than a 75 rating in any of his 10 previous NFL seasons. His quarterback coach that year: Jeremy Bates, currently serving as the NY Jets quarterbacks coach.
In 2014 McCown became a free agent and signed a two year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was named the starter to open the season. McCown injured his thumb and was replaced early in the season by rookie Mike Glennon. McCown regained his starting job when healthy, but his poor play led to his release after the 2014 season.
McCown signed a three year deal with the Cleveland Browns in February 2015. He started eight games for the Browns in 2015 and played fairly well. Unfortunately various injuries led to Johnny Manziel replacing McCown at various points in the season, leaving McCown with only eight games played on the year and a 93 passer rating. McCown lost his starting job to Robert Griffin III to start the 2016 season, but Griffin was almost immediately hurt, and McCown once again became the starter. Unfortunately McCown broke his collarbone after just one game. By the time he regained his health it was November and the Browns had moved on to rookie Cody Kessler. McCown was released after the 2016 season, and he signed with the New York Jets, where he won the starting quarterback job largely by doing nothing while Christian Hackenberg imploded during the preseason.
McCown now enters the 2017 season as the unquestioned starter for the New York Jets. He has spent a career as a pretty good backup, just good enough to compete for a starting job but rarely good enough to win the job for long. Poor play and numerous injuries have always conspired to keep McCown from ever remaining a starter for long. Outside of his one spectacular half season with the Bears in 2013 and another half season with the Browns in 2015 McCown has uniformly been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL, when he wasn’t a backup. Nonetheless, two of the last three seasons in which McCown has seen substantial playing time have resulted in good to great play from McCown, so perhaps he will provide his best performances at the tail end of his career.
In any event, whether by merit or by default, Josh McCown is the Jets starting quarterback on Sunday. Now is the time for McCown to finally prove he can be a worthy starter for more than a few games in this league. If McCown can execute the game plan, avoid huge mistakes, get the ball out quickly and run a competent NFL offense, then the Jets might win the game and McCown might start to build some momentum for the season. If on the other hand McCown reverts to the turnover prone quarterback he has been for the large majority of his career, if he fails to ignite the Jets offense and put enough points on the board to give the Jets a fighting chance, then the Jets will likely lose and McCown’s last chance to start in the NFL might begin to unravel. These next few games may be Josh McCown’s last best chance to show he deserves to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. This is McCown’s time in the spotlight. This is his moment to prove his many critics wrong. This is Josh McCown’s chance to shine. Let's see whether McCown can breathe life into an underwhelming Jets offense on Sunday.