Why sign Josh McCown?

By: Jon Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief

Which NFL free agent is the hottest name on the market right now? Ndamukong Suh isn’t necessarily there yet, but already Reggie Bush, A.J. Hawk, Jacoby Jones and a number of other veterans have been released by their teams and are free to look anywhere for a job.

There are certainly more names to likely be added to that list, including Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata, but thus far into the offseason, Josh McCown somehow garnered the most attention. McCown signed with my Cleveland Browns on Friday. My only question: Why? Even before he signed with the Browns, he was garnering attention from the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

I understand everyone needs a quarterback to be successful in the NFL. But the Browns have a young quarterback already on the roster and picks available to draft one, and both the Jets and Bills had younger options at that position already. Why go with the guy who has played for six different teams in his 12-year career?

This is a problem that has existed in the NFL for years. Coaches and general managers just assume that because a guy has been in the league for a long time, he’s a better free agent pickup than a younger guy or a draftee.

But General Manager Ray Farmer should already know what he’s getting out of McCown, and it’s not a whole lot.

(Note: All stats, unless otherwise noted, are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.)

Only 17 quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have started at least 45 games in their career, had a career passer rating of 77 or worse, had 59 or more passes intercepted, and 63 or fewer passing touchdowns, and one of them is McCown.

Out of that group, McCown has won the second fewest games of any of them (quarterback wins is a dumb stat at its core, but it’s worth noting here that McCown has played on some awful teams). McCown actually has the highest passer rating out of those guys, but everyone below him had/has a career passer rating of 75 or worse, so it’s not likely going to get any better for him.

Out of his 12 years as a backup, McCown has only recorded one season when his passer rating was better than 75, and that was with the Chicago Bears in 2013. That season, McCown went 3-2 as the Bears’ starter with Jay Cutler out and is the only reason why he’s getting any notice in the league.

Teams are now failing to realize that McCown’s success that season had way more to do than the team around him than his personal performance. In 2013, he finished the year averaging 9.1 adjusted yards per pass attempt in eight appearances, by far the best rate of his career. He also only threw one interception that whole season, despite being picked off on 3.5 percent of his career pass attempts.

Out of all quarterbacks that season who took at least 25 percent of his team’s dropbacks, McCown was tied for having the fifth fewest drops with just 12. It certainly helps to have Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte.

In 2013, Jeffery and Marshall were both inside the top nine receivers in Pro Football Focus’s season grades. The only other team to have two guys in the top 12 was Denver, who obviously had Peyton Manning throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

The Browns are without Josh Gordon (again) and their starting wide receivers right now would be Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin, and they are likely going to lose Jordan Cameron, their starting tight end.

The same thing happens in the NBA. Teams would much rather go out and grab a re-tread player off the waiver wire (see: Kenyon Martin) than reach into the Development League (see: Jerrelle Benimon) and call a younger guy up.

That’s what’s happening here. McCown is a fine backup quarterback, but the numbers just don’t show that he can be a reliable starter in the league, and it’s ridiculous for anyone, including the Browns, to have signed McCown to be a starter.

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