Over the weekend, the Cleveland Browns reached an agreement with veteran QB Josh McCown, who had recently been cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, “Josh McCown deal with Browns: 3 years/$14M with upsides to $20M. $6.25M is Fully Guaranteed. Year 1 is $5.25M Fully Guaranteed.”
Josh McCown deal with Browns: 3 years/$14M with upsides to $20M. $6.25M is Fully Guaranteed. Year 1 is $5.25M Fully Guaranteed.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 28, 2015
As you can imagine, guaranteeing $5.25 million to any veteran quarterback in this weak class was not met with a very good response from Browns fans. Add in the fact that McCown is coming off a season in which he went 1-10 as the starter for Tampa Bay, and the riot that ensued on social media was nothing short of entertaining, to say the least.
From calls of “Brian Hoyer is better” to full on mockery of the situation from one NFL Network analyst, many—including this writer—were not too enthusiastic about the move. For an organization that has been through 20-plus starters since returning to the NFL in 1999, including many “veteran, stop gap” quarterbacks, it seemed like the same move the organization has made time and time again—and failed miserably doing so in the process.
McCown will turn 36-years old in July, and is coming off arguably his worst season as a quarterback in the NFL. He completed just 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,206 yards, 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions—and as stated before, finished with a 1-10 record on a very bad Tampa Bay team.
For his career, McCown has accumulated a 17-32 record as a starter. Owner of a 58.8 career completion percentage, he has thrown for 11,033 yards, 61 touchdowns and 59 interceptions—with a 6.6 yard per attempt rate. With an overall rating of 76.1, it is easy to see why some felt retaining Hoyer—owner of a 10-7 record (10-6 with the Browns) and a career 76.8 rating—may have been a better option.
However, the move to sign McCown was likely less about the overall career numbers and more about two things—his flash of potential in Chicago, and willingness to be a mentor and clipboard holder behind a young quarterback.
Surrounded by one of the most potent supporting casts in the league in 2013 (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett), McCown came in for an injured Jay Cutler and put up a 3-2 record as a starter. He finished his eight games of play on the season with a 66.5 percent completion percentage, 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception and an 8.2 yard per attempt rate.
At the soon-to-be age of 36, nobody in the Browns organization is expecting McCown to be a long-term starter. In fact, they may not even expect him to be a starter at all—despite paying him a guarantee of $5.25 million for this coming season. No, McCown’s job is to push the competition and accept the backup job if he loses—which is why he was offered a contract over Hoyer, who wanted to be a starter and not a mentor to Johnny Manziel last season according to many reports.
So how does this all relate to the Seattle Seahawks? Let’s rewind to the 2012 offseason.
Coming off a 7-9 season (that’s just a coincidence), the Seahawks entered the offseason with Tarvaris Jackson as their incumbent starting quarterback. Jackson had just finished the best season of his career, throwing for 3,091 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a completion percentage of 60.2.
Despite the above average numbers and a 7-7 record as a starter that season, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll wanted to drive competition in order to find his franchise quarterback. The first order of business was signing former Green Bay Packers QB, Matt Flynn, to a three-year deal worth $20.5 million ($9 million guaranteed) in March. Flynn wasn’t a world-beater of sorts, but he had shown flashes of possessing the ability to put up big numbers when called upon in a spot start or two.
Less than two months later, despite having Jackson and Flynn on the roster, Carroll and the Seahawks used a third-round pick on Russell Wilson. Labeled too small for the position, nobody expected Wilson to be a real threat in year one and that the job would be Flynn’s for the taking. As we all know, the outcome was quite different than how the money was spent—with Jackson being traded to Buffalo in August and Wilson winning the job. A little over a year later, Flynn was dealt to the Oakland Raiders, as Wilson had emerged as the team’s franchise quarterback Carroll had been seeking.
Aside from the obvious potential of having three guys (McCown, Manziel and a rookie to be named later) vying for the position, the contract situation was similar as well. While many pounded the table as to why the Browns gave McCown “so much money” in the first place, NFL Agent Greg Linton reminded me of something—the Browns have well under the league average tied into their quarterback position.
After guaranteeing McCown $5.25 million, the team owes Manziel just a base salary of $794,936 for this coming season (figures from Spotrac.com). Manziel’s total cap hit is $1.8 million thanks to his signing bonus, so if you factor that in—the Browns only have $7 million in cap hit tied up between two quarterbacks this season. If they were to add in another quarterback through the draft, they still would not top $10 million for the most important position on the roster for the 2015 season (unless they move up in the Top 5 and get one, then it would be roughly $10.7 million using Blake Bortles’ cap hit from his rookie year).
To put that in prospective, there are 16 quarterbacks currently in the NFL making an average yearly salary of more than $13 million themselves (that may not be their cap number next year, just an average). For a team like the Browns searching for an answer at the quarterback position, the ability to potentially pay three players less than $3 million under what 16 other QBs are averaging per season is a big deal. That gives the organization the flexibility to allocate their money to other key positions through free agency, thus building their team while trying to find a fit at quarterback.
On top of that, it makes hopefully finding a long-term option at the quarterback position easier from a financial standpoint. Though many Browns fans are extremely pessimistic about the quarterback situation (as well they should be), if the team decides to add another rookie to the mix with McCown and Manziel—something is surely to give, at least producing one quarterback with the ability to be a presentable starting quarterback for the team next season.
Furthermore, imagine if the Browns had the good fortune to find their own Wilson (whether that is Manziel or someone from this draft class). Then they would have the ability to cut ties with McCown after the season, freeing up roughly another $5 million to allocate to another position. Meanwhile, they would be paying the rookie quarterback and Manziel pennies on the starting quarterback dollar, all the while still having rookie-contract control over both players.
So while we all may hate the name “McCown” because his recent production does not instill confidence as a starting quarterback, let’s give Ray Farmer and the Browns organization until the beginning of the season for all of this to shake out. Because when it is all said and done, the Seattle model Farmer holds dear to his heart may just produce a franchise quarterback outcome in Cleveland.