It's the offseason, which is a great time to write. The emotional highs and lows of the season are abated which makes for a great opportunity to examine other relevant goings-on around the NFL. And why not start with 1,500 words on the Factory of Sadness itself?
Last week Cleveland signed Quarterback Josh McCown to a 3 year, $15 million deal, thus sewing another square onto the world's saddest quarterback quilt.
The Browns, love 'em or hate 'em, at least are not boring. I mean, did you see that uniform and color overhaul?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>A Cleveland employee really put in the effort this week. So many shades... <a href="http://t.co/cVAMHtxjHF">pic.twitter.com/cVAMHtxjHF</a></p>— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) <a href="https://twitter.com/FO_ScottKacsmar/status/570242248329302016">February 24, 2015</a></blockquote>
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But when they aren't having...
- Their owner and his company indicted for fraud (and paying $92M to settle)
- The general manager investigated for in-game tampering with the sideline playcalling
- The previous offensive coordinator presenting a 32-bullet PowerPoint on why he should be let OUT of Cleveland
- The (current) first round quarterback being checked into rehab
- Their star receiver earning another year-long suspension
- The logo changing from plain orange to...orangier (???)
- The Dawg Pound logo becoming cartoonier
- Brownie the ELF changing to who knows what (didn't even know that was a thing until this play (skip to 4:05))
- A forthcoming uniform change
...they're actually just a boring, lunch-paily, road-grading team trying to get better the old fashioned way.
Unfortunately the old-fashioned way doesn't work and the Browns as an organization need to be immediately checked for a sideline concussion test.
Let me explain:
A career backup is the NFL sweet spot
It's my contention, and that of many others, that being a backup QB in the NFL is a pretty damn good deal in today's NFL. You get paid about $4 million for your troubles and you aren't asked to do much except look stoic and capable on the sidelines. You can do the job for a decade at least if you show up for work on time and look like you know how hold a clipboard and provide team-friendly quotes in press conferences. And when your name is called, if you perform even a little bit, you'll have teams blowing up your phone to overpay you in free agency for years afterward.
By that measure, Josh McCown has been a stunning success and arguably the example to which all future quarterbacks should aspire. He has made an estimated $22 million in his career (salary stats courtesy of Spotrac.com). He is also 17-32 as a starter, but hey, who's counting?
Drafted in the third round of the 2003 draft, McCown finished his four years with Arizona with a 10-12 record. He had 25 TDs, 50% of which went to Larry Fitzgerald.
This was good enough for the Detroit Lions, who handed him $4 million in Free Agency (which was much better than backup QB money in 2006). Detroit, in those dark, dark years under Matt Millen, was desperate to move on from Joey Harrington and yet despite paying him that much money, he never played a single snap. Instead, Jon Kitna got them all. The Lions won 3 games. You're going to see this trend across the teams McCown has played on: they are the NFL's perennial bottom feeders.
Detroit let him go the very next year, after earning $4 million to throw 0 passes. If earning $4 million for zero passes isn't being a brilliant businessman, I don't know what is.
At least better than Jamarcus Russell
McCown found himself in Oakland in 2007 behind their first overall pick Jamarcus Russell. Josh McCown started the first 3 games, and the last 6, finishing 2-7 for the year. Oakland was apparently satisfied with Jamarcus Russell and let McCown go, which has to be the most depressing thing anyone has said about any quarterback ever.
Proving that he is indeed smarter than all of us though, in 2008, according to Spotrac, McCown was somehow paid $2 million from Miami AND 2 million from Carolina in the same year. Pro Football Reference doesn't even list Miami on his career record. I don't even.....I take back what I said earlier about McCown just being a brilliant businessman -- he might be the best businessman ever.
Anyway, McCown was an anonymous backup in Carolina behind the soon to implode Jake Delhomme, playing almost no snaps.
After earning nearly $4 million from Carolina, McCown was evidently out of football entirely in 2010 because no record exists for him in that year.
Out of football but not for good
Just like clockwork, another team came calling. The 2011 49ers, who were evidently wanting Alex Smith insurance (before finding out that they were really good with Jim Harbaugh in charge instead of Mike Singletary) kept him around at the vet minimum. Then they dumped him a year later in favor of Kaepernick, who would later go on to become their starter and win them huge playoff games. Never let it be said that all of McCown's teams were dumb...
In 2012, Chicago signed him to approximately the veteran minimum. He was anonymous until Cutler's 2013 injury. Then, he put on one of the great 5-game stretches for a backup ever. He was leading or nearly leading the NFL in all sorts of advanced stats: DVOA, DYAR, QBR to go along with traditional stats like touchdowns and yards per attempt. The Bears were only 3-2 in that span but who cares? McCown, Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were making it rain like a goddamn tempest.
McCown even earned his fourth career "4th Qtr Comeback/Game-Winning Drive" against our own Baltimore Ravens (his first since 2004). It's my contention that we choked this game away big-time and with it, our playoff hopes, but I digress.
That 5-game stretch is now responsible for what will be at minimum, $10 million more in earnings if not more. The Buccaneers pursued him, paid him nearly $5 million, went 2-14 (including 1-10 with McCown as a starter) and then dumped him.
And that's where Cleveland re-enters the story with bags of money at the ready.
Cleveland somehow incapable from learning from their miserable past
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Josh McBrown <a href="http://t.co/kYEQ6ANvx2">pic.twitter.com/kYEQ6ANvx2</a></p>— Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) <a href="https://twitter.com/DrawPlayDave/status/571457238713249792">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote>
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(h/t to Jason Butt for retweeting that gem last week)
Reading a few comments on the Browns page "Dawgs By Nature" reveals two distinct camps: those who think it's a pointless signing, dooming Cleveland to repeat the miserable past, and then diehards who think McCown is a positive backup for Manziel and that the criticism against their poor team is overblown.
Count me as siding with the former camp.
Hoyer wasn't great overall, and the time he was good was helped by lousy competition but he was at least the main reason for Cleveland being good at all last year on offense. He's probably capped out as a player (quarterbacks almost always either pan out immediately or not at all) but he is in his prime if nothing else. Theoretically, he's young enough that he could be better with a better team around him. I mean, it's not as if he was playing with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery last year....
McCown on the other hand has 12 years of NFL time to show us exactly what he is: a career backup who has bounced around on half a dozen teams and never once shown he could be the answer. We know exactly who he is at age 35. Expecting anything more is pure, unbridled wishful thinking.
Paying him $5 million, after a 1-10 season, when he was available for the league minimum two years ago borders on madness. But it's the sort of madness coaches and GMs routinely engage in out of desperation to avoid being fired. 7-9 is better than 3-13 at least in the short term for job security.
I mean, maybe not for "Trigger Finger Haslam", who will apparently fire you for trying and failing to sign your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice at Head Coach, but normally it helps.
The problem with this old-fashioned approach of signing aging backups to expensive deals (Cleveland's got a patent on this strategy by now) is that it's a waste of an opportunity.
For starters, any snap that McCown plays in a regular season game is one less chance to find out more about either Johnny Manziel or some other young quarterback. Sure Connor Shaw is probably not long for the NFL but you'll never unearth the Tom Brady's and Russell Wilson's of the world if you never play these no-namers because some old guy is holding down the fort in a losing season.
Second, while Cleveland has lots of cap space, that's money that could go to a stud receiver, defender or literally anything else. Yes, Manziel was a disaster but what better way to prove or disprove his legitimacy but go for broke in putting players around him? You spent a first round pick on him for godsakes. You can find old washed up QBs on the street for league minimum and they'll be just as useful as Manziel's mentor. You don't need to pay $5 million for the privilege.
Matt Schaub is literally available right now for free as long as you don't force him to shave his beard.
Signing McCown at that price is the move of a scared, rudderless, desperate team. I actually like Mike Pettine (and hey McCown seems like a good guy, too) but given who runs the show in Cleveland, what else would you expect from our friends on Lake Erie?
Unfortunately, this poor guy needs to make yet another addition to his jersey:
Follow me on Twitter @jerreegarcia