Back in March, the Jets confirmed the signing of journeyman quarterback Josh McCown, who is expected to start for the Jets after signing a one-year deal.
The 37-year-old McCown is listed at 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, and was a third round draft pick out of Sam Houston State back in 2001. The Jets are McCown’s 10th NFL team in a career which has seen him start 60 games and pass for over 14,000 yards. He has 79 touchdown passes, 69 interceptions and a 78.2 career passer rating but only an 18-42 record as a starter.
McCown spent his first three seasons at SMU, but struggled, completing just 51% of his passes with just 27 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. For his senior year, he transferred to Sam Houston State and established himself as a draftable prospect by going 10-3 and passing for almost 3,500 yards with 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.
McCown was a third round pick for the Arizona Cardinals but barely played as a rookie. In his second season, he started three games, one of which saw him throw two touchdown passes in the last two minutes as the Cardinals erased a 17-6 lead and beat the Vikings as time expired.
McCown became the full time starter in his third season, starting 13 games and winning six, including two more fourth quarter comebacks. In his fourth season, he lost the starting role to Kurt Warner, but still started six games, including 385 and 398 yard passing performances in consecutive games.
After a stop in Detroit where he served as the back-up and didn’t throw a pass, McCown spent the 2007 season in Oakland. He started nine games, posting a 2-7 record.
Over the next four and a half seasons with Oakland, Carolina and the Bears, McCown started just two games and threw just 61 passes, but when Jay Cutler was injured during the 2013 season, McCown put together the best run of performances in his career. McCown started five games, posting a 3-2 record and a quarterback rating of 109.0. He threw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception to lead the NFL in interception rate. His final three starts saw him throw for 352, 355 and 348 yards with eight touchdowns.
This earned McCown a shot as the starter with the Bucs in 2014 but he was released after just one year having won just one of his 11 starts.
He moved onto the Browns in 2015 but suffered an injury against the Jets in the season opener when he tried to dive into the end zone and suffered a concussion. However, he returned in week three and threw for 341 and 356 yards in his first two starts back in the line-up, before winning a player of the week award as he threw for 457 yards in an overtime win over the Ravens. He lost his last four starts of the year, though, averaging just 226 yards passing per game.
In 2016, McCown made five appearances, starting games in week 2, 8 and 12. He threw for 260 yards and two scores in a five-point loss to the Ravens and passed for 341 yards and two scores in a three-point loss to the Jets. His last start saw him throw for 322 yards and a score in a 27-13 loss to the Giants. By contrast, Ryan Fitzpatrick had just one 300-yard game all season and Bryce Petty’s best passing performance saw him rack up just 257 yards.
McCown joins the Jets having won just eight of his 38 starts since 2007 and two of his 22 since leaving the Bears at the end of the 2013 season. If the Jets are looking for someone to lead them to a high pick so they can draft a quarterback next year, McCown could be the man. The first round picks earned by his teams in 2014 and 2015 were used to acquire Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz. The Browns also ended up with the first overall pick after 2016, which they used to select Myles Garrett.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what McCown brings to the table, based on my research and film study.
McCown has nice size at 6-feet-4, 213 pounds and his pre-draft measurements were outstanding. He posted a 4.6 40-yard dash, a 3.9 second short shuttle, a 38.5” vertical and a 120” broad jump. Of course, these numbers are essentially meaningless now because he’s 37 years old and has undoubtedly lost a step.
McCown throws a pretty nice deep ball and has done so with good consistency, especially in 2013 and 2014 where he was among the league leaders in efficiency on deep throws. One strange quirk from the past two seasons is that he is 0-for-15 on downfield passes to the right side, though.
Anyone can loft a deep ball down the field for a receiver to run under though. The real test of arm strength is whether you can get adequate zip on throws out to the sideline or when completing passes in tight windows. McCown doesn’t fare too well at that these days, but seems to have a good understanding of his limitations so he doesn’t force throws that often.
He can get some good zip on throws down the middle and here’s an example of that:
McCown has a 59% completion percentage for his career. However, he showed that he can be accurate in a ball-control offense with the Bears, completing 66% of his passes while with them. Over the past three seasons, he’s completed less than 60% of his passes in two of them, but did complete 64% in 2015.
When given time to throw, McCown has good placement and timing and will hit runners in stride. His deep throws are usually well-placed and he excels at throwing jump balls in a good spot for the receiver to go up and get it. Here’s an example of that:
When he has time, McCown has good mechanics, but he does have a tendency to get happy feet when pressured. This can lead to him rushing throws or bailing out which affects his ball placement.
He throws a nice spiral on downfield passes and can execute play-action fakes effectively. He also shows an ability to change his arm angle to get rid of short passes under duress.
McCown has made some bad decisions when pressured in recent seasons, which was a high percentage of the time because he was on some bad teams.
It seems apparent that he pre-determines who he is throwing to a lot of the time and will sometimes fail to anticipate trap coverages or linebackers dropping off into a passing lane. There was also one play where he seemed to see the linebacker dropping but tried to throw it over him anyway, underestimating his range.
Despite the pre-snap reads, he’ll often drop back and scan the field rather than constantly locking in on a target, although he can be guilty of that at times:
As already noted, McCown’s footwork and decision making can at times desert him when he’s pressured. He doesn’t tend to get rid of the ball particularly quickly, but has dealt with the blitz well over the past few years, throwing 11 touchdowns and only one interception when blitzed in 2015 and 2016.
As you can see on this play, he anticipates and eludes the rush well and then has the patience to reset and find the open man:
At times, however, he would be better off taking the sack than making a risky throw and he doesn’t necessarily throw the ball away very often. He has been sacked approximately three times per game over the course of his career, including 36 times in 11 starts in 2014.
Under serious pressure, he’s not immune to panicking, as he did badly on this play:
Ball security has also been an issue and not one that’s improved as his experience grows. He’s fumbled 26 times in his last 24 appearances (22 starts).
As noted, McCown had some good athletic numbers when he first entered the league, but must have lost a step since then. As a runner, he’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry with eight touchdowns, three of which were in 2014. However, he had just 21 yards on seven carries in 2016.
McCown will step up into the pocket to make a throw and can deliver the ball on the run, although he will occasionally throw ill-advised passes back across his body. Here’s one good throw on the move from last year:
McCown is pretty good at moving around within the pocket to create a lane to throw the ball and he’s never had more than five passes batted down at the line in a season.
He shows some good vision and poise on this play where he initially looks to take off but then thinks better of it and drops back to find the open man:
We don’t really know what type of system the Jets will be running yet under new offensive coordinator John Morton. It has been implied that the scheme will be multiple, which suggests it will probably be tailored towards the strengths of the personnel anyway.
On the assumption it won’t be a million miles away from Chan Gailey’s system, then McCown’s familiarity with a system that relies on pre-snap reads could be useful. However, if it’s more of a ball-control offense, then McCown’s success in Chicago might bode well.
He’ll be familiar with two of the targets on the Jets roster, having thrown a combined three touchdown passes to Matt Forté and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Over the course of his long career, McCown obviously missed some time through injuries, although he’s avoided anything particularly serious so far. His early career included finger, thumb, hand, foot and knee injuries.
Since being with the Browns, age has started to take its toll and the frequency of injuries has increased. Having already dealt with a concussion and rib and shoulder injuries in 2015, he ended up on injured reserve with a broken collarbone and then suffered another broken collarbone in 2016. It would probably be optimistic for the Jets to expect McCown to remain healthy throughout the season.
Former Jet Brandon Marshall recently endorsed McCown as an ideal candidate to mentor the Jets young quarterbacks. It’s a familiar refrain for McCown who has also been tasked with mentoring the likes of Mike Glennon, Johnny Manziel and Cody Kessler in recent years.
While the Jets have been optimistic at how McCown will fare in a mentoring role, the media has been dismissive on that concept. Looking back at some of the other players to have played under him, including JaMarcus Russell, John Beck, Matt Moore and Caleb Hanie, you can see that he hasn't really mentored any success stories.
Glennon is perhaps the closest thing to a success story McCown has had as a mentor, earning himself a big contract this year despite being largely unproven. McCown certainly played a hands-on role in Glennon’s development and has spoken passionately about how much he enjoyed the process.
Media have also written glowingly about McCown’s work ethic, team-first approach and how respected he is.
While his command of the offense has typically been good, McCown has been responsible for 18 delay of game penalties over the course of his career.
This is obviously a stop-gap move and while McCown might not have the best raw ability of all the available candidates, he is relatively cheap, comes without baggage and should be a positive influence in the locker room. He’s also used to playing without necessarily having a lot of talent around him. I don’t think he’s much of a downgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick and, in fact, given how poorly Fitzpatrick played last year, he could well outperform him. McCown has only had one season with a lower quarterback rating in years where he’s played enough to pass for 1,000 yards – and that was 10 years ago and only 0.2 worse than Fitzpatrick’s 2016 rating.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that McCown will stay healthy enough to play the whole season and, even if he does, he probably won’t keep the Jets in contention long enough to avoid losing his spot to one of the youngsters.
One of the best things McCown brings to the table is that he seems a lot less prone to a complete meltdown than any of his recent predecessors that have started for the Jets. He’s never thrown more than three interceptions in an NFL game and he’s only had three on three occasions, the last of which was in 2007. In addition, he’s thrown just five pick sixes in his career, with just two since 2005 and never more than one in a season. By contrast, Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez have eight each despite having much shorter careers.
That kind of even-keel personality is probably what the Jets need, as opposed to Fitzpatrick and his gunslinger mentality whenever the team dealt with any adversity.
As an obvious short-term move, it’s difficult to get excited about any kind of long-term ceiling for this move, but in terms of steadying the ship and enabling the Jets to take stock of where their future lies, this was a much better choice than many of the other proposals.
Up next: Offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison was recently signed, but does he have a shot at competing for the starting center role?