Since the Cleveland Browns returned in 1999, 23 different quarterback last names have graced the back of a starting jersey for the consistently rebuilding franchise. However, only one last name has graced the back of those jerseys twice—McCown.
11 seasons before Josh McCown would sign a contract with the team in 2015, his brother Luke would start four games for the team in 2004. At the time, nobody thought the now 37-year old Josh was a long-term option for the franchise—so why the sudden apprehension to trade him?
Maybe fans are feeling a bit nostalgic since they had the opportunity to see the McCown name start for their team twice in their lifetime, but there is something about clinging on to a 37-year old with a 2-17 record the last two seasons as a starter that seems odd. Add in the fact that a team like the Dallas Cowboys could be willing to give up a mid-round draft pick for McCown, and the decision should be pretty easy—right?
Instead, many are clinging on to McCown because they are afraid Robert Griffin III is going to suffer an injury—which is very possible given his playing history—and they are afraid of rushing rookie Cody Kessler into playing time too early. Which are both valid points.
Despite these valid points, dealing McCown to the Cowboys if a fourth or fifth-round pick is on the table should be a no-brainer for a couple of reasons.
Winning and Starting Are Two Different Things
McCown is 18-39 as a starter in his career. Only once during his career has he finished with a “winning record,” which was a 3-2 mark in 2013 when he took over for an injured Jay Cutler. As mentioned before, his 2-17 record with Tampa Bay and Cleveland in 2014 and 2015 also shows that he isn’t a game-changer of any sort, even with above average numbers last season with the Browns.
Money and Age Make Trading a Good Thing
At 37-years old, McCown has cap hits of just over $5 million each of the next two seasons. Now, that is not a lot of money for a quarterback—but for a guy who missed eight games last season with yet another injury in his career, the Browns could allocate that money elsewhere.
If the Browns were a playoff contender, having McCown as a backup would make a lot of sense. But they are deep in the middle of a reclamation project with RG3, and just added 14 rookies in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hue Jackson has the potential to be a very good coach and molder of men, but expecting this team to go from 3-13 to 10-6 or better is major stretch.
Getting Younger Isn’t Easy, the Roster Spot is Needed
When you draft 14 players in one class, something has to give when it comes to roster spots if you really want to find out if the youth can grow and play. With RG3 in line to be the starting quarterback this season and the Browns adding Kessler in the third-round, keeping McCown around is a luxury their roster may not be able to afford.
Instead, his roster spot should go to keeping one of the four wide receivers they selected in the first five rounds of the draft. After years of not addressing the position, I find it very hard to believe they are not going to keep all four of the youngsters they selected. Keeping a third quarterback on the active roster could make that difficult to do.
Assets Help the Rebuild World Go Round
Only a fool would not admit the Browns are in full rebuild mode. Sashi Brown and the front office did a great job of making 14 picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, while acquiring picks for the future at the same time. They came away with the Eagles 2017 first, 2018 second and the Titans 2017 second as well.
If you can add another mid-round pick to the 2017 assets, it could go a long way in helping the Browns maneuver up the board or finding a mid-round gem. When you are a franchise that has long struggled in the draft to find impact players, you need to fire as many bullets as possible in order to hit the target—so moving McCown adds one more in the chamber for Brown and this front office.
Final Thought and Plan
McCown is the perfect mentor for RG3 and Kessler and an asset to the quarterback room, there is no questioning that fact. But at the end of the day, he has not made enough of an overall impact as a starter to warrant not trading him if the asset is right.
What the Browns should do is go to the Cowboys and say we will take a fifth-round pick that is conditional based on attempts or games played. If McCown surpasses 150 attempts this season should Tony Romo go down with an injury, that pick becomes a fourth-round selection. This condition should please both parties.
At the end of the day, it is tough to hang on to an aging asset on a rebuilding team based on insurance alone. McCown is a great guy and has done everything the Browns have asked him to do since joining the team last year, but at some point the business side of the game has to take over—and the business side here says to trade for the future asset if that deal is on the table.