The eventual fate of still-current Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown is unknown. What we do know is that he was present—and available to the media—when the team opened offseason workouts earlier this week, and that he’s ready and able to help the team no matter what they need, granted they still feel as though they need him.
With a new coaching and front office staff, every existing player on Cleveland’s roster was fair game for release—and a number have been cut already, including quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Dwayne Bowe, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner. It seemed that McCown was headed toward the same fate, with head coach Hue Jackson saying to Bleacher Report SiriusXM Radio in January that, “Josh McCown played great when he was healthy and did some really good things, but we also know he’s getting up there age-wise. I think what we need to do is look to the future to find what we think is going to be the best fit for us and go from there.” He added, “If there’s a QB at pick No. 2 or pick No. 32 that we feel is the best option, the best fit for our team, we need to go get him.” It appeared as though Jackson was at least leaning against the idea of McCown competing in earnest to serve as the Browns’ starting quarterback for 2016 and, it could be read as though he was also leaning against retaining the 37-year old on the roster altogether.
But this week’s developments could mean a second year for McCown to serve in some capacity in Cleveland, whether in the mix to start or as a backup, veteran mentor, much as he was brought in to do in the final year of the brief Manziel era which recently came to an end. At the very least, Jackson’s comments this week show a greater willingness to see what McCown can provide on and off the field for the time being. Jackson said, “Josh McCown is a tremendous football player. You don’t play in this league for 15 years having not been very good at what you do. He provides us with a really good quarterback, obviously a veteran presence and I am just excited to work with him,” but he was also quick to add, “As far as what is going to happen in the future, I’m not concerned about that and having talked to Josh [about that], he isn’t either.”
Keeping McCown around for as long as is needed—including into and through the entire 2016 season—would not be a bad choice for Jackson and company to make in the months ahead. While it may be tempting to move him in a trade, should there be any takers, that may be a non-starter. Yes, McCown is an even-keeled quarterback capable of playing well when called upon and more than open to serving as a leader and example to other players and younger quarterbacks, which could entice someone to move a low-stakes draft pick in return for him. But those reasons also make a strong argument for McCown remaining with the Browns this season.
McCown has a total salary cap hit of $5,041,666 this year—$4.375 in base salary and $666,666 in signing bonus, amounts that are well in line with backup or even third-string quarterback money in today’s NFL. So the money is not a factor, though the Browns will have just a $2,333,334 dead money charge if they release him. But what McCown can provide the team, not just as an active, game-day player but also in meetings and on the practice field, could be way more valuable, especially when considering how much further Robert Griffin III has to go to regain his professional footing and the possibility of a rookie needing direction and guidance in the early days and months of his career. Now, much of that can easily fall to Jackson—he’s a head coach in the NFL for the second time primarily because of his innovative offensive approach as well as his ability to connect with and build up quarterbacks to become capable, full-time starters.
But Jackson is the head coach; he’s not the quarterbacks coach or the offensive coordinator, which means he will need to spread his attention around to numerous players, positions and assistant coaches on offense, defense and special teams. Having essentially an extra coach in McCown—and an extra, experienced player—would only make Jackson’s job that much easier in this crucial first year of the Browns’ latest transitional period. Plus, this is something McCown enjoys doing. This is not a Brian Hoyer situation where he was forced to help bring Manziel along while also competing with him, the result being less than ideal. No, McCown knows where he is at at this point in his career and has made his name being a consummate professional. McCown reiterated that this week, saying, “I believe iron sharpens iron, and we can help one another. We’ve made that clear from the get go, and that’s the goal just to come alongside one another and make this team better. If there are things that I can draw on my experiences to help Robert and vice versa, we’re going to do that.” McCown added, “I just want to help [Griffin] maximize that opportunity.”
The goal for the Browns is to hit on finding the quarterback of the future, a young player who can help stabilize a position that has had precisely zero for nearly two decades. But that doesn’t mean there is no longer room for McCown on the roster, especially now when Griffin’s skill set is a relative question mark and it’s unknown which quarterback the Browns may draft and what their goal is for him in the immediate term. McCown missed eight games in 2015, including the final five with a broken collarbone, and the Browns went 1-7 when he was the starter. But at the same time, in just eight games, McCown nearly matched his passing yardage from the previous year, in which he started 11 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also threw 12 touchdowns to four interceptions in those eight games for the Browns, compared to 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2014, and had a career-high completion percentage of 63.7.
He’s not perfect—if he was, this discussion would never have begun in the first place—but he is the definition of a quality NFL backup quarterback, one who is capable of stepping in and starting if called upon and doing so with poise and intelligence. There’s no reason for the Browns to seriously entertain releasing McCown at this point in the year. Later? Maybe. But the team as a whole, and the quarterback position in general, would be in better all-around shape by teaming McCown up with Griffin and an eventual rookie for 2016.