In 2016, the New York Jets overpaid an old journeyman quarterback based on an outlier season. Outside of his on the field play, he was regularly cited as an ideal mentor or bridge quarterback to the team’s younger players at the position. Have they repeated the same mistake heading into the 2017 season?
There was never a reason for the Jets to pay Ryan Fitzpatrick 12 million dollars in 2016, as there were no other teams interested in him anywhere near that price. He baited them with retirement threats and they paid a 3-5 million dollar player four times his value because of a lack of confidence in the young quarterbacks on the roster. Fitzpatrick flamed out, called out the coaching staff and provided a steady example of how not to play quarterback in the NFL to everybody else on the roster.
Despite two years of Fitzpatrick, the Jets front office decided this offseason their young quarterbacks were still not ready to enter the season on top of the depth chart. They invested a premium price for a veteran mentor bridge quarterback, again, paying Josh McCown 6 million dollars rather than paying pennies for a player like TJ Yates, Matt McGloin or Chase Daniel.
McCown is 3 years older than Fitzpatrick and will turn 38 before week 1 of this season. Somewhat similar to him, he had a recent outlier season to a prolonged career of mediocrity. If you add up his 8 games from 2013 and 2015 to a full season, it sticks out positively to the rest of his career similar to Fitzpatrick’s 2015 season. In 14 years, McCown has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions three times and one of those times was in 2004. He has only played in more than 10 games twice in his career and one of those times was also back in 2004.
The story of his 2013 is well known, as he filled in for Jay Cutler and took advantage of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte en route to a 3-2 record as a starter, 13 TDs, 1 INT and a 66 completion percentage. It is a similar story to Fitzpatrick’s 2015, where a journeyman rides a loaded skill position group to a massively inflated stat line.
Since that season McCown is 2-20 as a starter with 29 TDs to 24 INTs and a 58 completion percentage. In 8 starts for the Browns in 2015 he racked up 12 touchdowns to 4 interceptions despite limited talent around him (the team went 1-7 in those games). Let’s unpack the stats a little.
First off, McCown lost 6 fumbles to accompany his 4 interceptions, muddying up any interpretation that he found a way to protect the ball. Of those 12 touchdown passes, 3 came when Cleveland was trailing by double digits. It is also worth noting if you remove his three games against the 5-11 Baltimore Ravens and 4-12 San Diego Chargers, he finishes with 7 touchdown passes to 3 interceptions and 5 lost fumbles.
It is hard to formulate any argument for McCown as a quality on field player. Much like Fitzpatrick, he is lauded for being a heady game manager who protects the football despite a long track record of turning the football over at a high rate. (McCown has 69 career interceptions and 70 career fumbles over 14 seasons while maintaining a career YPA of 6.7).
The primary argument regularly used in favor of McCown is the intangibles he brings and his ability to mentor young quarterbacks. You can read about McCown the mentor in Oakland, McCown the mentor in Miami, McCown the mentor in Tampa Bay and McCown the mentor in Cleveland. Among the quarterbacks who have been under his tutelage are JaMarcus Russell, Johnny Manziel, Mike Glennon, and John Beck.
To be fair to McCown, the concept of “mentoring” is overstated. No mentor was turning Russell, Manziel, or Beck into a quality NFL quarterback. Instead of just repeating the cliche, take a step back and actually think it through.
What exactly is McCown showing Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg that they have not learned through their combined three years in the NFL so far? If they are already not watching tape or practicing hard, is McCown miraculously going to change that? If they are already working hard, which by all accounts they are, what else is he showing them that is going to have a major, tangible difference on their level of play? You certainly do not want the young quarterbacks modeling their on field play after McCown, like you did not want them modeling it after Fitzpatrick. Both veteran mentors regularly do not read the defense, turn the football over and lose many, many (many) games.
Let’s drop the oft recycled mentor narrative because there is nothing backing up proof of it in regards to McCown. The Jets paid 6 million dollars because they are not sure if Christian Hackenberg is ready to play week 1 and McCown has started more recently than Yates, McGloin or Daniel. He has played poorly when asked to start but with a lack of available options, they opted to double down on a strategy that doomed their 2016 season. Hopefully, the team will see better results this time around.
Photo Credit: Cleveland.com