If I had told you before the 2013 season there would be a divisive, heated and contentious debate amongst Chicago Bears fans as to whether or not Jay Cutler or Josh McCown should be the team's starting quarterback, you would have called me crazy. Yet that's exactly what happened last year after McCown was called into action for five starts in place of the injured Cutler.
Under head coach Marc Trestman, McCown resurrected his career in a big way, posting Top 10 numbers across the board amongst NFL passers. Yet the Bears signed Cutler to a seven-year extension immediately following the campaign, so there's no hope for McCown to start in Chicago.
Will the 35-year-old McCown return to the Windy City as the club's backup quarterback next season? We weigh the pros and cons of re-signing the 11-year veteran.
Coming into 2013, McCown was little more than a journeyman quarterback who just a few years ago was coaching high school football. For his career, he had a 71.2 passer rating and had thrown seven more interceptions (44) than touchdowns (37). Yet last year he finished third in the NFL in passer rating (109.0), sixth in completion percentage (66.5) and yards per attempt (8.17), and second to only Philadelphia's Nick Foles in TD/INT ratio (13/1 compared to Foles' 13.5/1).
An argument can be made that no quarterback in NFL history has accomplished such a steep turnaround in production at 34 years of age. Trestman turned a worn down old dog and taught him a whole bagful of new tricks.
McCown was sharp in accuracy and decision-making, consistently moving the ball and putting points on the board. As their backup, Chicago had a quarterback one-third of the league would have killed to have as their starter. That's an extremely valuable luxury to have in a quarterback-driven league.
Was last season a fluke for McCown? In 10 seasons previous – 11 if you include his 2010 stint in the USFL – he had accomplished nothing. Yet out of nowhere, he turned into one of the most dependable signal callers in the league. How does that happen?
Those who believe in Trestman and his extensive history with NFL quarterbacks will point out the influence he had on McCown and his ability to squeeze every last drop out of the team's backup quarterback. The detractors will point out at least five dropped interceptions McCown threw last season, and the team's 3-2 record with him as starter. Can Bears fans really expect McCown to continue playing at such a high level at 35-years-old and beyond?
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em?
Even if McCown were to regress into just half the quarterback he was last season, he would still be the best backup quarterback in the league. And with Trestman at the helm, the odds are slim that McCown will tumble alarmingly back into the realm of mediocrity.
McCown has already stated publicly his desire to continue playing and late last month said he's open to returning to Chicago. McCown understands his past as well as anyone and is very aware of Trestman's role in his amazing turnaround. If he chases money and goes elsewhere, there's no guarantee he'll be in a position to succeed. With the Bears, at least he knows he's playing in a system that fits his strengths.
Still, there may be one or two NFL teams that believe McCown is short-term starter material and may offer to pay him as such. When it comes down it, McCown may have to decide between making a lot of money to be an NFL starter or taking less money to be a backup.
What would you do?
If the demand is there, McCown may be tough to retain but if he decides he wants to stay in the Windy City, Emery should welcome him back with open arms and a huge hug.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.